Letters from the Street

Philosophy, theology, and whatever else crosses my mind.

Crisis of Capitalism 2

Keeping track of events as they unfold and trying to make objective sense of them. These aren’t isolated incidents. They are related, either directly by common features, or indirectly by a larger systemic conjunction. I don’t have the resources to methodically gather all or much of the pertinent events. I can only make use of what comes my way. I hope others will use the same methodology to uncover conditions that I don’t or can’t.
First, there’s the Lewis/Trump affair.
  1. Representative John Lewis, in an unusual statement, claimed Donald Trump’s election to be illegitimate due to claims of Russian interference in the electoral process. He and 17 other Congresscritters are staying away from the inauguration. Usually high officials will attend the opposition’s inauguration out of respect for the office and the process. This, in and of itself, shows a rift in capitalist hegemony. The two capitalist parties fight for dominance, and may question the legitimacy of a given candidate, but not of the process itself. It is important for them to preserve the illusion of free and democratic elections to keep the populace calm.
  2. Trump attacked Lewis personally in return. using Twitter. He said “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad.” This was on the eve of the celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday celebration. Lewis was a noted associate of Dr. King with a long record of social action in and out of Congress, and a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. Trump displays his contempt for facts in this tweet, as well as raising  the concern about racism that dogged his candidacy. During elections, disagreements may be no-holds-barred and include personal slurs. Customarily, in the weeks leading up to the inauguration, the oligarchs try to present an image of even-handed, statesmanlike bipartisan cooperation, with paeans resounding about the peaceful transfer of power and reaching across the aisle.
  3. Trump’s post raised hackles in Georgia, especially in the district Lewis represents. The tweet was seen, not just as an attack on Lewis, but also on their home, which they don’t feel to be in horrible shape, falling apart, or crime-infested. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, a moderate newspaper (center-right on some issues, center-left on others such as civil rights), described the reaction as “incredulous” and “stunned,” and Trump as “clueless.” In their most telling remark, the AJC said “Atlantans understood Saturday that a political fight was playing out.” But this is more than the usual political jockeying for power among different sectors of the ruling class. This is a seismic shift, when even the moderate press, usually trying to appear objective and fair to “both sides,” is using adjectives like “clueless.”
  4. Later that same weekend, Gwinnett County commissioner Tommy Hunter accused Rep. Lewis of being a “racist pig” on his Facebook page. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Hunter “later posted an image that included this phrase: ‘If you’re easily offended and looking for a ‘safe place’ my page ain’t it. Move along snowflake.’ ” The AJC went on to report, “Sometime shortly before 11 a.m. Monday, however, the ‘racist pig’ post was no longer on Hunter’s timeline. The page’s privacy settings also appeared to be changed, but the other posts mentioned above were still visible to ‘friends’ and ‘followers’  — along with additional posts mocking U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, [and] asking if there were ‘any white guys’ on the University of Alabama’s football team.”
The point here is not the language being used by Trump and Hunter. Yes, it’s rude and even offensive, especially the “racist pig” remark. But this is not a post on manners, or how ignorant and hateful a couple of white guys can be about a hero of the racial justice movement.
I’m also not saying that we’ve never seen language as bad as this in political discourse. Some of the things Jefferson and Adams said about each other during the 1800 presidential campaign were pretty awful. Jefferson’s people said that Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character, [with] neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ supporters called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Adams was also called a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was said to be a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. No, the Republic has not been lily-pure in its political strife up until now.
Let’s leave personalities out of it. We’re looking at this as part of a larger system.
The greater significance is that the two bourgeois parties are clashing in a reckless way. They are not just pitting one party against the other, hoping for electoral victory. They’re questioning the legitimacy of the system itself. The two great sectors of the ruling class, of which Lewis represents one side and Trump and Hunter represent the other, are fighting for pre-eminence in a way that could scar the American political structure. The best case scenario is that both are left weakened. The worst case is that one achieves supremacy, without the scheme of checks and balances that have kept the worst sort of politics from taking over thus far in American history. This leads to a more authoritarian form of government which is great for the very rich and bad for the rest of us.
Even within each party internally we see the same sort of confusion, rancor, and take-no-prisoners approach going on. In the Republican primaries, they went so far as to compare penis size. (Well, they’ve never done it publicly before.) In the Democratic primaries, the clash was between the old Roosevelt coalition and the constellation of forces that Bill Clinton pioneered in the 1992 election, the New Democrats of the Democratic Leadership Council, which sought the support of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” and Wall Street.
So we see the crisis of capitalism emerging in the political arena, both between and within the parties. Now let’s consider the economic sphere.
While so many in the news media, and the rest of us also, were digesting the implications of the Trump/Lewis scuffle, something else was happening that didn’t get a lot of attention. On Friday, the day before Trump took on Rep. Lewis, he made a comment regarding lifting the sanctions on Russia. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”
If that sounds self-serving, you’re right. Trump’s connections are, on the one hand, very well-known, and on the other hand, not known well enough. But there’s another major player in this: Rex Tillerson.
You see, Rex Tillerson was more than just a little involved in a deal between Exxon Mobil and Rosneft, the Russian oil company and largest petroleum company in the world. Majority owner? The Russian government. The deal? Exploration and development of Russian oil reserves in the Arctic, as a joint venture between Rosneft and Exxon Mobil.
The payoff? $500 billion. Half a trillion dollars. And Tillerson has a whole bunch of Exxon stock as part of his compensation, millions and millions worth.
The sanctions that were imposed over the Russian annexation of the Crimea stopped the Exxon Mobil/Rosneft deal. Drop the sanctions, and the deal’s back on. And our nominee for Secretary of State, who would be involved in lifting sanctions, is intimately involved. Get the picture?
How does this fit into our job of looking at current contradictions of capitalism? There are several ways I can think of, and these won’t exhaust the possibilities.
  1. Exxon Mobil and Rosneft are not the only sharks in the tank. There are other big players in the petroleum industry, like Chevron (which doesn’t own a piece of Rosneft, unlike Exxon Mobil and BP, which do.) The potential for this Arctic Shelf project to affect these other companies’ profits won’t exactly make them happy.
  2. There are other countries besides Russia who are deeply involved in the oil industry, like China, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf states, and former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. They won’t be happy about the competition either.
Just with those two factors, there is plenty of room for conflict. The maneuvering could be very interesting – if it weren’t for the rest of us getting hurt more than any of the “big players.”
Now throw in the environmental issues. Remember the controversy over oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a fight which is not over yet although it hasn’t been in the news as much lately. It’s predictable that there will be a similar fight over development in the Russian Arctic. This is not just the forces of Greenpeace; there is an important sector of the ruling class that gets that all-out exploitation of the environment, just like all-out exploitation of the workers, may pay off in the short run but not for the long haul.
On another front, students of history will remember such events as the explosion of the battleship Maine (which kicked off the Spanish-American War (and allowed the US to take power in the Philippines, control the Cuban economy, and annex the Guantanamo Bay area which is a source of contention to this day, over 100 years later); the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand (which was the casus belli for the onset of World War I, a contest over markets and colonial resources); the Reichstag fire (which was the rationalization for Hitler’s mass arrest of communists, especially those in parliament, which gave him a majority and consolidated his power), the Gulf of Tonkin incident (partly true and largely fictionalized, and gave Lyndon Johnson the pretext to plunge the US into the Vietnam war); and the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon (a genuinely tragic affair which nonetheless allowed the Bush government to pass the Patriot Act, greatly expanding the ability of the intelligence community to spy on US citizens and other civil rights infractions.)
So, do not be surprised if some event, whether an actual assault or a false flag operation, takes place early on in Trump’s presidency, which he will use to expand his powers, punish his opponents, and quell dissent. It may not involve overt action on Trump’s part. He may just make the kind of statements, like the one about the 2nd Amendment people and Hillary Clinton, which will suggest to his white supremacist pals that they should take matters into their own hands against Muslims, blacks, Mexicans, communists, or any other disfavored group. Those of us who are in the opposition had better be making plans for how we will respond. Some sectors of the ruling class will support this, and others will feel it goes too far, and will provoke yet another crisis among the capitalists. “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”
In a previous paragraph, I expressed a hope that others will use the same methodology to examine other events that may not cross my radar. What methodology is that? Dialectical materialism and class analysis, that’s what. I hope that in what’s been said above, the class analysis is obvious. These are not just an isolated set of coincidental events. Without the tools of class analysis and dialectical materialism, there is no context or systematic way to comprehend the flow of events.
I was in a discussion recently with someone who thinks Trump is uniquely dangerous, unlike anyone else past or present, and does not see him as one part of a greater danger. This is because she does not have a methodology with which to view and dissect what is happening. It’s hard to connect the dots when you only see one dot at a time.
There is a major power struggle going on among those with the vast majority of the money and power in the world. Hillary Clinton is a good example of one faction, those who want to be able to exploit natural resources and the labor of working folks, but trying to take somewhat better care of those workers. The other main faction, of which Trump is currently the most obvious representative, doesn’t worry about people or the planet; naked exploitation in its raw form. So those two contending forces form one set of contradictions, thesis (raw exploitation) and antithesis (exploitation with some care for the “livestock”), out of which a new synthesis will emerge.
Then there is the set of contradictions between the ruling class and the working class. The plutocrats want all the wealth and power for their own personal use, and squabble among themselves to get it, but are all in agreement that it is OK to rip off the rest of us to do it. We, the ones who actually create all the value, don’t want to be exploited. It rankles, for instance, to have Congress talking about taking health care away from millions who got insurance through the Affordable Care Act, while they themselves enjoy a deluxe insurance policy funded by our taxes. So a struggle goes on between these two groups also for dominance.
We will keep watching how current events are developing towards a critical state. The point of course is not just to understand what is happening, but to use that dynamic knowledge to change the system that produces these disasters.

Crisis of Capitalism Accelerating  

​ABC News has a story they just posted about US troops moving in force into Polsnd. 

Why is Obama provoking Russia? Moving US troops into a former Warsaw Pact country can only be seen as an incitement of some kind.

This isn’t war games or maneuvers. Whatever the military reason may be, it’s yet another sign of the deepening crisis of capitalism, which is accelerating. If something isn’t structurally out of whack in a big way yet, events are pushing in that direction.

Could be an outbreak in the Middle East, and they’re moving to secure Europe before it happens. Could be the next stock market crash, and military action is always good for shoring up a faltering economy.

I don’t tend to be alarmist, but I see a lot of events piling up. Electing a fascist as US president. Both major US parties having serious internal problems at the same time. Power grab in the NC legislature. Anti-worker laws being passed in the Kentucky legislature. Right wing movements gaining strength in Europe. And so on.

The people united will never be defeated  – el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido. If the working class doesn’t sort this out, there will be hell to pay.

I would like to be wrong. I’m not 100% sure I’m right. This is the way it’s looking today. 

Why I Call Myself a Communist

I used to call myself a Marxist, to distance myself from “those communists.” Now I know better. I’d be a card-carrying communist, if they issued cards.*

We’ve been lied to about communism. So much, and so emphatically, that anti-communism is more like religious fundamentalism than serious political inquiry.

Over and over, for more than 150 years, we’ve been told the Big Lie about communism. There are a lot of little lies that shore up the big lie. The big lie is that communism is always and everywhere a form of tyranny that will take away your freedom, property, and dignity, leaving you in poverty and slavery.

All the while, the rich are robbing you blind, making democracy a sham by buying politicians, ruining the environment, supporting dictatorships all over the world, degrading your working conditions when they aren’t shipping your job elsewhere, charging you more for health care and medications, keeping you in wage slavery, ravaging the environment … The list goes on.

They lie to you about communism because they want to maintain the system they have. This system is enormously, unbelievably rewarding to a very few at the top, much less so to those in the middle, and absolutely punishing to the many at the bottom.

This state of affairs is called capitalism. In capitalism, everything – where you live, where you work, what kind of work you do and how you get compensated, what happens when you’re sick, what happens if you’re a person of color, what happens if you are female, what happens if you are LGBTQ, what happens if you belong to an indigenous people, what you eat, drink or breathe – it’s all subordinated to profit.

Profit is a technical term in economics for what most of us call greed. Profit is what makes the handful of people at the top of the current social structure so incredibly rich and powerful. Profit is why one person has billions of dollars, while billions of people live on less than two dollars a day.

Let’s look at some examples of how this works.

For instance, how do capitalists benefit from racism? Several ways. One, it helps them make more money to have a sector of the work force that is kept in poverty, who will be more willing to take crummy jobs for low pay, and keep their mouths shut about working conditions because they can’t afford to lose even a lousy job. Second, it helps keep people in line. If white workers blame black or Hispanic workers for their own miserable jobs or unemployment, then they won’t blame the bosses. Very handy – if you’re a boss.

Same thing with gender. If you pay a woman 69% of what you’d pay a man for the same job, you get to keep more money for yourself.  And if the dominant culture allows or even encourages men to take out their frustrations on women, then men won’t see the need to struggle to change the system that keeps everyone –  not just women – locked into low pay, substandard living conditions, the cycle of debt, second-rate schools, and all that. (These are not the only ways racism and gender discrimination affect our working class brothers and sisters, just a few brief examples.)

It’s even more obvious why capitalists exploit the environment. If they can take oil, or coal, or wheat, or trees, or any natural resource without having to worry about safety, pollution, or sustainability, then it’s more money in their pockets. If there’s an oil spill and they have to spend $50 million to clean it up, why, it’s just the cost of doing business. If cancer causing chemicals are killing people and they have to pay large settlements, even $500 million bucks is nothing compared to the billions of dollars they’ve kept for themselves.

By using money and power (including violence), the ruling class keeps the laws in their favor. In America, this is done through a two-party system. Both parties are run by the ruling class. This powerful elite is not always in agreement about the best way to run things; this is why they have two parties.

The Republicans think they can stay if they get most of the money and lots of people, and the Democrats think they can win if they get most of the people and lots of money. If the Republicans win, then they have to please the people with the money – the plutocrats or 1% – and enough of the voting public to stay in. If the Democrats win, they have to please the voting public and enough of the plutes.

So, while the Republicans are more likely to favor the rich people who are all about money, and the Democrats are more likely to favor the rich who want to do something to help “the less fortunate,” both favor the rich one way or the other and keep them in the driver’s seat.

Either way, the billionaire class is less than 1% of the population, so their power is enormously out of proportion to the power of the voting public. This is why both parties cater to the billionaires, the real ruling class. (The 20 wealthiest people in the US own more than half of the total US population. Does “ruling class” sound like an exaggeration to you?)

Both parties will use diplomacy and military intervention as needed to keep America in political and economic power over the rest of the world. Lyndon Johnson was as big a hawk as Ronald Reagan, and did far more damage in Vietnam than Reagan did in Central America. Barack Obama has been more restrained than his predecessor George W. Bush, but expanded the use of drones for assassination, and has bombed extensively in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria, countries with which we are not technically at war.

The alternative to capitalism is socialism. Socialism values the good of society as a whole over personal gain. Everybody would own their own home, clothes, TV, whatever. This is called personal property, and it will still be there for your personal use. You would still be paid for the work you do.

What would change is that one tiny group of people wouldn’t own all the places where we work, people who do none of the work yet reap the wealth that we create.

Under socialism, some of your compensation would not need to be given to you individually. If we all have health care, you don’t need money to pay for a separate insurance policy. If child care is freely available, we don’t need to earn enough money to pay for that. If higher education is free, you don’t have to go into debt to go to college.

Under socialism, some jobs will be valued more by society, so people who have them will earn more. Teachers might be paid more than taxi drivers, because we value our kids’ education so much and we want good teachers. But vast inequalities in wealth and income would no longer exist as they do today under capitalism. Everybody would be working class.

There are varieties of socialism. The best known is based on the work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Some people who agree with Marx just call themselves socialists. Okay by me. Some call themselves Marxists. Some call themselves communists. Marx, who wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” considered himself a communist. I’m told he once said that he was not a Marxist. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Since Bernie Sanders mounted such a fine campaign for President, the term “socialism” has once more become an acceptable part of our political conversation in the US. Socialism has never been the dirty word in many other countries that it has been here. Many countries have active communist parties with widespread public support. Some of those communist parties can be described as democratic socialist. This is true of the Communist Party of the USA, with its “Bill of Rights Socialism.”

Communists have done a lot of good in the world. In the US, for instance, communists were crucial in the gains made for working people by the labor movement in the 20th century. They were involved early on in the fight for gender and racial justice. In Asia, Africa, and South America communists have fought for economic equality and an end to colonial domination. Socialists on every continent have established educational programs and affordable medical care for people who had been kept in illiteracy and illness by their capitalist bosses.

The African National Congress, which spearheaded the fight against apartheid, has been allied with the South African Communist Party (SANC) since 1955, and is itself a member of the Socialist International. Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela was a member of the SANC for a time, and was greatly influenced by the anti-imperialist views of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Other famous communists include: novelist Simone de Beauvoir; professor Angela Davis; poet Amiri Baraka; screenwriter Dalton Trumbo; scholar and NAACP co-founder W.E.B. DuBois; president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta; author Albert Camus; folk singer Woody Guthrie; nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer; actor and singer Paul Robeson; journalist John Reed; philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre; novelist Howard Fast; labor leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn; painter Diego Rivera; and many more.

Capitalists, and their minions, stooges and patsies demonize communism so you won’t even consider it as an option. They’ve been doing this since communism first appeared. They have used jail, violence, black-listing, character assassination, and more to scare people away.

There’s no question that some who call themselves communists, such as Stalin and Mao, have committed unspeakable violations of human rights. Remember earlier when I said there are different models of communism? Some of those models have failed atrociously. Such abhorrent crimes cannot be explained away. But remember this: in that insane calculus in which deaths caused by communists are abominable but those caused by capitalists are merely “unfortunate”, there is neither justice nor integrity.

“But right now, as bad as we may be, as many atrocities as we may commit, we are not as bad as Russia. I mean in America, at least the police don’t shoot you — unless, of course, they do.” (Jordy Cummings)

Criticisms of socialist societies by those whose wealth was built on slavery and Jim Crow, who support the butchery of Augusto Pinochet and the mass incarceration of African Americans, who talk about the dangerous Soviet police state while making excuses for the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and so many others, rings more than hollow. It’s just not believable, so we have to ask what motivates such a fraud? Support of the status quo, that’s what.

For many years, I believed those lies. I’d been raised on them, and didn’t have the knowledge to refute them. Now I do. The truth is not hard to find if you try, and it’s worth looking for. Unless you are one of the 1%, who wouldn’t want a world where people mattered more than greed?

*(Update – they do now. Just got mine.)

(On a personal note: I know some who know me will read this and make assumptions. You can’t assume that I believe X because I said Y. In some ways, I’m rather conservative. In other ways, I might look like a libertarian. At times, I’ve held positions that I later decided were wrong, sometimes regrettably so. But always, since taking a hard left turn in 1967, I’ve had a Marxist take on society. It’s why I’m the kind of social worker that I am. It’s why, as a Christian, I study Liberation Theology.)

Gringo Liberation Theology: Temporarily On Hold 

It’s too important to be  doing Liberation now. Events are taking place here in Babylon that demand our attention, our action, our hearts, minds and souls. Still have to make a living, too. 

I hope to post some material here from time to time, but lately my energies have been engaged in struggling against incipient fascism, as represented this time around by Babyhands and his gaggle of moguls. 

I never got to the post about how South American Liberation Theology is built on the communities of the base, the poor, humble and disenfranchised millions who gather together to love God and each other enough to stand up against the power of the billionaire class. Well, we’re going to have to make it up as we go along, because it can’t be done alone. I reckon that’s a good way to do it. 

Keep the faith, sisters and brothers. Love each other and the whole world,  because it’s going to take all the love we got to save the people and the planet from the onslaught of greed,  hate and ignorance that is being unleashed. We can do this.  

Burr Attacks Ross in NC: It’s No Dog Whistle

I’ve been watching the campaign ads for the Senate and Governor’s races here in North Carolina. Set aside the fact that, in keeping with the general tenor of things, they are pretty ugly. There is an important  difference. 

On the whole, the Republicans have nothing but attack ads. More dishonest than usual, too. They have no ads at all putting forth their platform. They don’t say what they’ll do. They don’t say what they won’t do. They just say how awful their opponents are, and in the worst possible way. . 

For instance, Burr shows a picture of Ross, the evil ACLU lawyer who supposedly opposed the creation of the sex offender registry –  which has a smidgen of truth, she did work for the ACLU – a picture of Ross, as I was saying, with a shadowy black man’s face in the background. 

Black man, sex offender. Shades of Emmett Till. 

Talk about bringing out the worst in people for political gain. The term “dog whistle” has become current to describe a kind of racist talk that is not explicit – you don’t exactly hear it, like you can’t hear a dog whistle – but it sends a message anyway. Furtive. Even deniable. But effective. The point is made. 

Well, this goes past dog whistles. This  is a bull  horn. 

All the more reason to get out the vote in a couple of weeks,  or right now if you want to be an early voter. We have a chance to turn these racist, misogynistic throwbacks out of office. The Democrats won’t be perfect, but they won’t be this bad. And they will create a climate in which further progressive change is possible, instead of just fighting against the latest outrage all the time. 

Help get others to the polls. Get on the phone banks and call your neighbors, or go door to door. And for God’s sake, vote.

How Communists Think

There’s a lot of confusion in social media about what socialists should or shouldn’t do in the upcoming election. There are many who say “Don’t vote for Hillary Clinton because _____” You can fill in the blank, with anything from She’s a Corporate Shill to She’s a Liar to She’s Not Going to Support Single Payer Healthcare to whatever the concern of the day might be.

When these discussions occur between communists and other progressives, the progressive usually says something along the lines of “how could a communist support someone who will _____.”

Let’s clear something up here. Those statements are ideologically driven. If we unpack them fully, they really mean something very much like this: “If you’re a communist, then you must believe X, but Hillary believes Y, therefore you shouldn’t support her.” In other words, it’s an ideological litmus test.

The flaw in that argument is that communism is not an ideology. Dictionary.com defines ideology as “the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.” Doctrines, myths, beliefs, etc. are all philosophical constructs. Notions.

The basis for communist thought is not ideology. Marxism is not a philosophical construct. Philosophy is a tool of communist thought, not the foundation of it. “The point is not merely to understand the world, but to change it.”

What, then, is the basis of communist thought, if not beliefs or doctrines? It is a method. Specifically, that method is dialectical materialism.

For Marx and Engels, materialism meant that the material world, perceptible to the senses, has objective reality independent of mind or spirit. They did not deny the reality of mental or spiritual processes but affirmed that ideas could arise, therefore, only as products and reflections of material conditions.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Materialism deals with objective reality, and proposes ideas which communicate that reality in a useful way. This is the opposite of ideology, which places “doctrines and beliefs” first and seeks to understand the world through the lens of those beliefs.

The reason why so much of the left is consumed by sectarian squabbling is because they are ideologues, not dialectical materialists. They have ideas which are dear to their hearts and which they believe explain the world around them. This is similar to the fundamentalist forms of religion, which proclaim that in order to be saved, you have to assent to the creed that they promote. It is fidelity to the creed that determines purity.

Marx described communism as scientific socialism. Scientific, because it is grounded in an empirical model, just as the scientific method is. We observe what is going on around us, then formulate hypotheses that help to explain or predict what happens. This guides the actions we take. We assess the outcome of those actions, and formulate new hypotheses based on what we’ve learned. Theories that are useful are retained and used, until subsequent experience suggests improved hypotheses. We are not bound to the hypotheses, we are proponents of a process.

Dialectical materialism is a particular form of scientific process.

In opposition to the ‘metaphysical’ mode of thought, which viewed things in abstraction, each by itself and as though endowed with fixed properties, Hegelian dialectics considers things in their movements and changes, interrelations and interactions. Everything is in continual process of becoming and ceasing to be, in which nothing is permanent but everything changes and is eventually superseded…Marx and Engels started from the materialist premise that all knowledge is derived from the senses. But against the mechanist view that derives knowledge exclusively from given sense impressions, they stressed the dialectical development of human knowledge, socially acquired in the course of practical activity. Individuals can gain knowledge of things only through their practical interaction with those things, framing their ideas corresponding to their practice; and social practice alone provides the test of the correspondence of idea with reality.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Let’s use a practical example to bring this down to earth. We see that there is a pattern of violence against blacks by police. This is the thesis. Racist violence is being expressed in this form at this time. Blacks are not being hung from trees by angry white mobs as they were in the early 1900s. This overt racism has taken a modified form.

A movement called Black Lives Matter springs up in opposition to this violence. This is the antithesis.

Prior experience from the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s tells us that if blacks persist in their demands for racial justice, and enough whites reject their racist attitudes, then improvement will occur. That is the synthesis.

In response to this, we take part in the movement, blacks and whites each doing their part. We see what happens. If we’re right, then progress takes place. If we’ve misinterpreted, then there is a different result, a new set of conditions, and we start the process again.

We see that this approach is scientific because, like the scientific method, it proceeds from practical interaction with the world around us. This is the experimental method.

Paolo Freire understood this very well, and taught a method in Brazil functionally identical to what we’re talking about here. As described in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the method of praxis consists of reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed. “It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality.  They must act together upon their environment in order critically to reflect upon their reality and so transform it through further action and critical reflection.

This Freire quote is more than a little reminiscent of the Marx quote above, that our goal is to change the world and not merely to understand it.

Often, people read communist texts and like the ideas they find there. They believe that those ideas are the essence of communism. They’ve missed the point. It’s easy to understand how this happens.

Much of our educational system is devoted to convincing people to accept the conclusions of others, rather than teaching them how to apply the method by which those ideas were formed. People who have been trained this way will habitually assume that if they have grasped an idea, they have understood the situation.

They should be attending to the process by which those ideas came to light instead, and applying that process to current conditions in their own lives. Marx himself, using the framework of dialectical materialism, might come to different determinations under the conditions of today, then what he concluded in the 1800s.

So when someone says “how can a communist support someone who believes X,” they are displaying a lack of understanding of the nature of communism.

If it’s idealistic rather than practical, it’s not communism.

Fascism and the New American Caesar

There’s a lot of loose talk during an election year, especially one as heated as 2016. Not that we haven’t seen heat before. The Bush years were full of a blind invective from the Left. Bush Derangement Syndrome, I heard it called. If he had gone back to drinking, many would have criticized his choice of hooch.

Then there are the slurs that the booboisie has flung at Obama. Just as deranged, and made more despicable by the racism they just have to add.

This kind of thing goes back to the beginning of the Republic. In 1800, old friends Jefferson and Adams squared off for the Presidency.

Things got ugly fast. Jefferson’s camp accused President Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

In return, Adams’ men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” — Kerwin Swint, Mental Floss

This is far from pristine, principled discussions of issues!

It’s the issues that count the most, when the campaign’s over and someone has to govern. As much as possible, I try to keep things on that level. I avoid the simplistic characterization, the ad hominem attack, and the dumbing-down of important policy distinctions.

Most of all, I dislike hyperbole. I’m a staunch supporter of the frame of mind implicit in Godwin’s Law (1990): “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1.” French author François de Smet refers to this as the “Reductio ad Hitlerum.”

There’s a corollary to the law, that says that whoever mentions Hitler or the Nazis first, loses the argument.

So far this year I’ve been avoiding using the term “fascism” to describe Donald Trump, for all the above reasons. But I’ve been studying fascism, too, because the parallels are too strong to ignore.

There is a time and place for everything. We can’t take this comparison off the table. Mike Godwin himself has said, “If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician.”

There are Nazis, and they are dead serious about it. And then there are those who are not Nazis, but who have fascist tendencies. They can be more dangerous than the out-and-out Nazis. First, they’re more numerous. Second, they’re not as obvious. I believe Trump falls into the latter category.

Let’s take a moment to describe fascism, so we’re all on the same page.

Robert O. Paxton defines fascism as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a massed-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” [quoted in Fascism: The Ultimate Definition]

All of these elements can be seen in play in the Trump campaign.

“Obsessive preoccupation with community decline”: The very slogan “Make America Great Again” presumes that America, once great, currently is not.

“Humiliation or victimhood”: “When Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and initially refused to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, he offered voters a toxic mixture of victimhood and pugilistic rhetoric tinged with nostalgia for a violent, unapologetically racist past.”— Gunter Peck, Salon

“Compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity”: Jesse Graham, associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, remarked “More than any other Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump has been appealing to a particular combination of in-group loyalty and moral purity concerns. On the purity side, he often expresses disgust, often toward women and women’s bodies (e.g., Clinton’s bathroom break during a Democratic debate). But his purity appeals are most commonly in the context of group boundaries, like building walls on our national borders to prevent contamination by outsiders, who are cast as murderers and rapists, both morally and physically dirty.” – (quoted by Thomas B. Edsall in the New York Times)

“Mass-based party of committed nationalist militants”: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” [Donald Trump, quoted in The Guardian] Sadly, this seems to be pretty much true. If that’s not committed, what is? And as to the militant part, I give you this. And this. It’s not Kristallnacht by any stretch of the imagination, and no one suggested that Trump is organizing Brown Shirts, but there’s no question that the raw material is there.

“Uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites”: Did you hear Paul Ryan’s speech? Uneasy collaboration is a pretty good description. We’ll see about the effective part.

“Abandons democratic liberties”: “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” (Donald Trump, quoted by Hadas Gold on Politico.)

“Pursues with redemptive violence”: There’s no way for Trump to carry out his plans to build walls, deport millions, ban Muslims, etc. without violence ensuing. And clearly he sees these plans as redemptive, making America great again.

“Without ethical or legal restraints”: Trump talks about doing many things without reference to how the Congress or judiciary would be involved. It’s as though he thinks that, with the stroke of a pen, he’ll be able to put all these ideas into action.

“Goals of internal cleansing”: the well-known wall, deportations, of course. He has also said he would consider tracking Muslims, perhaps with a form of religious identification. New moons sewn on their clothing? I know: Godwin’s Law. But the specific form of religious identification doesn’t matter; it’s despicable just that it would even be considered.

“External expansion”: no specific plans that I’ve seen. The age of colonialism is over, so there’s that. Economic expansion is another thing though. Trump is a businessman, and had made a major part of his appeal that he will create jobs. This suggests that some kind of corporate imperialism is on the agenda.

Brian Anesi notes some other characteristics of countries in which fascism has taken hold. Among them:

1. Polarization and deadlock: “In all cases where fascism was successful, its rise was preceded by a period of political polarization and parliamentary deadlock.” Case in point: Merrick Garland.

2. The political stance is poorly defined: “Fascist ideology was vague and protean. This is a source of endless frustration to those who expect to find a coherent definition of fascism in the writings of party ‘philosophers’. But it reflects nothing more than fascism’s pragmatic approach to attaining its goals and its unwillingness to be bound (like its predecessors) to failed dogmas. Like all popular movements, fascism tried to encapsulate ideology in terse slogans – ‘Believe, Obey, Fight’, ‘Strength through joy’, ‘Work makes you free.’  Or, as we’ve heard so often, Make America Great Again.

3. Emotionally appealing: “It is commonly observed that fascism was more a matter of the gut than of the head. Clearly those who joined fascist parties often did so from shrewd self-interest, but the same could be said of those who join any party. It was the emotional appeal of fascism – the notion that through sheer hope and force of will difficult and long-standing problems could easily be resolved – that set it apart. Triumph of the Will. This idea of course was not new and is still popular.” Trump is making a patently emotional appeal. Now, we know he has lots of good words, but primarily he is connecting to people through gut instincts. Fear, self preservation, anger.

4. Intolerance for dissent: “It would be trivial to observe that since the fascist model required individuals to serve the nation-state as the embodiment of the popular will, and subordinate their interests to it, dissent would be unthinkable for any true believer. A stronger reason for suppressing dissent can be found in the emotional characteristics of fascism. Accepting that ideas firmly held become reality, a dissenter imperiled the collective spell, and dissent was seen as a species of malefic witchcraft.” Even the stodgiest of media outlets – U.S. News – raises concerns about Trump on this issue.

In researching this essay, I found that all of a sudden, over the last week to 10 days, the number of respected journals that have identified Trump with fascism has exploded. When I first started writing it, it was hard to come up with enough varied resources that I wasn’t just repeating the same authors over and over. Now, there are so many, it became a major investment of time to read them all thoroughly in order to pick the sources I wanted to use.

We are at a crossroads. This is not exaggeration. Every country that has been taken over by an autocratic leader, be it Franco or Putin or Pinochet or Stalin, has found that once its democratic tradition has been destroyed, it is very hard to go back again. We must not let that disaster befall the USA.

It’s not enough for people to the left of Hillary Clinton, such as the millions who Bernie Sanders inspired with a vision for 21st century socialism, to stand up against the threat posed by the rise of this new American Caesar. As a lifelong socialist, I’d like to end with a high-falutin call to progressive ideals. Right now, that has to wait. What is most important now is for independent voters, who are the great majority, and for moderates in the shards of the Republican Party after it sold out to Trump, to set aside their differences and defeat him and all the people in Senate, Congressional, and statehouse races who are aligned with him. Having saved our nation, then we can go back to the usual arguments over policy.

Time for the NRA to Step Up

Another mass shooting happens in Orlando and all the predictable responses emerge like 17 year cicadas. “Ban assault weapons.” “If someone had been armed, they could have stopped it.”

Some of these responses are worthwhile and some are nonsense. I’m not going to rehash them. There will be plenty of people doing that over the next few days or weeks, with the usual results: not much.

Let’s try something new. Let’s ask the NRA to step up.

I don’t mean the leadership. That won’t happen. Take executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre: in office for 25 years, earning around $970,000 per year as of the 2010 IRS filing. He just might have a vested interest in appealing to the crowd that pays his salary, rather than approaching this situation with compassion and common sense. Fear-mongering is very good business.

So when I say “the NRA,” I mean the millions of regular members. Lots of them sport the bumper sticker that says “I am the NRA.” That’s right, you are. You’re the ones we need the most right now, not LaPierre or board members such as Motor City Madman Ted Nugent.

I have a suggestion for you, the members of the NRA.

But first, let me establish some credibility here. I am a gun owner, somewhere between the person who owns one gun for personal protection and a real collector. I’d rather not publicly advertise how many I own, but it’s more than a few. Handguns, rifles, shotguns. I handload ammo for about ten different calibers. I’ve worked part-time as a range safety officer and salesperson at my local range. I like to hunt. It’s nothing for me to put 1,000 rounds down-range in an average month (I keep stats.) I have a concealed carry license. I’ve shot an elephant gun (not at an elephant, I was helping a custom builder sight it in at the range.) My favorite pistol is the Browning Hi-Power. My favorite revolver is the .44 Special. My favorite shotgun is a 16 gauge L.C. Smith side-by-side (belonged to my great-grandfather.) And I own an AR-15, because it’s very accurate, ammunition is readily and inexpensively available, and I never tire of the recoil as I do with some larger calibers.

I’ve been a member of the NRA for many, many years.

So here are my suggestions for you, the NRA rank and file:

1. Stop listening to that blowhard, LaPierre. We should have gotten rid of him after the “jackbooted thugs” comment back in 1995. He’s making huge money, preying on your fears. Who knows if he even believes half of that nonsense, so long as it keeps the money – your money – rolling in.
(Maybe the good, kind, level-headed members of the NRA board, and there are many, could find someone else for the job. This is the only suggestion I have for the leadership.)

2. We already have background checks for all sales through an FFL (federally licensed firearms dealer, for the non-gunnies in the crowd.) Why not background checks for all sales? Go to an FFL, pay a small fee, he or she runs a check, it’s done. I sure don’t want to risk selling a firearm to a criminal or someone with a disqualifying mental condition, do you? Here in NC, and I believe we’re not the only ones, if you have a concealed carry license, you don’t have to have a background check because you’ve already jumped through all the hoops. Good enough.

3. We have to take training to get a concealed carry license. It’s a great idea. I learned a lot. Why not have training for any firearms owner? It would make that argument about the meaning of “well-regulated militia” carry a lot more weight, wouldn’t it?

4. If, as we know, guns can be the only means for the small, the frail, or the sickly to protect themselves, that very capacity is what makes them so deadly in the hands of these murderers. It’s not enough to point out how many millions of us don’t use them for crime. It doesn’t erase the slaughter caused by those who do. We have to accept this ghastly truth. While we know that the Clinton-era assault weapons ban had no measurable impact, we could re-visit the idea. Maybe handle it like silencers: pay a one-time fee, get a letter from your local sheriff. Again, it’s not that different from what we did to get a concealed carry license, so why make a fuss about it?

5. Something needs to be done about the mental health part of this issue. Gun owners always like to pint out how often these mass shootings are due to mental health issues, and often they are. It’s way not enough to just point it out. In fact, it’s rank hypocrisy to say it’s a mental health problem and do nothing about the problem. I am a licensed mental health professional. I diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. I know for a fact that our mental health system is so broken that it’s not a system at all. Very few of our states have anything that comes close to meeting the need. The much-ballyhooed lobbying power of the NRA (that’s you and me, remember, not the leadership) could make a powerful difference in ensuring that mental illness doesn’t go untreated.

6. Speaking of mental health, something needs to be done about the place on the form we fill out when purchasing a weapon (the 4473) that asks whether we have a disqualifying mental condition. How easy would it be to lie? Nothing easier. So we need a national registry. There are some requirements for that: it needs to be as complete as possible, it needs to protect confidential health information, and it needs safeguards to prevent unwarranted inclusion on the list. Those are all achievable, and I have ideas about how it could be done. This isn’t the place to go into details. My point in all of this is to say that if the genuinely good people of the NRA want to be taken seriously by our neighbors, we need to be asking for these things as strongly as we resist encroachment on our Second Amendment rights.

7. Finally, stop with all the rumor-mongering already. For instance, so many of you started stockpiling everything even remotely firearms-related when Barack Obama was elected President, prices skyrocketed on guns, most ammunition became scarce or unavailable (including the lowly .22LR), and even primers were almost impossible to find. And yet over 7 years have gone by, and Obama hadn’t taken a single gun from any of us. If you don’t feel foolish by now, you must be living in fantasy land.

None of these suggestions involve registration, confiscation, or banning a specific class of arms. They take what we’re already doing to the next step, that’s all.

I know, from years of being around fellow “gun nuts,” that the overwhelming majority of us are good, decent people. Educated. Hard-working. Reliable neighbors. Community-minded. Fun-loving. Kind to children, animals, and the down-and-out. The average scared-of-guns sort of person doesn’t know that we live right next door because they feel perfectly safe around us.

Words can no longer convey the desolation I feel over the innocent people being lost to this violence. I’d like to say more, but I just don’t know how.

If we don’t come up with ways to try to reduce these heart-wrenching tragedies like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and the Pulse shooting, eventually people who don’t know the first thing about us or our guns will do it for us. It’s not enough to express our grief over the senseless loss and chant “More guns, less crime.” I’ve said that myself. Now, I’ve had to stop and look for better solutions, because it rings more and more hollow with every drop of blood. Sooner or later, sooner rather than later, that blood will be on our hands if we keep on selfishly doing nothing.

Gringo Liberation Theology: A Course Correction

A slight but important course correction to the series formerly called North American Liberation Theology:

It struck me the other day that, although I’ve addressed the issue of diversity a couple of times in these posts, the title was misleading. “North Americans” are a broad mixture of race and ethnicity. North Americans can be Afro-American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic, Creole, Middle Eastern, etc.

I wanted to create a dialog specifically for members of the dominant culture in North America. I want us to realize that, despite our privilege, we have a very real stake in being part of a movement for justice and freedom across lines such as race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or creed. I wanted those of us who are people of faith to have our participation in this movement firmly grounded in that faith.

Using the term “North American” may have made sense in some way. That way would be looking outwards, from within the dominant culture. To do this well, I have to recognize when I’m doing that and try to change. I want to be one with my brothers and sisters across all those lines. I want out of these barriers. That’s one of the reasons we in the dominant culture need to adopt a liberation mentality, to free ourselves from those gilded cages while allying with others who are liberating themselves from the chains the dominant culture has imposed.

So as a step in this direction, and with tongue in cheek, I’ve renamed North American Liberation Theology “Gringo Liberation Theology.” Makes it a little more clear who I’m trying to reach. I went back and changed parts of the earlier essays. Tell me what you think.

Gringo Liberation Theology: Race and Gender

I have struggled for the whole time I’ve been working on these Liberation Theology essays to make statements about race and gender. These are essential to an understanding of what Liberation Theology means, not just in North America, but anywhere. I  can’t do my subject justice without addressing them.  But there are real problems as far as me,  personally, trying to do so.

I have a couple of co-workers who are Afro American men. They asked me one day not to use the term “boys.” For a bit of context, it’s fairly common in my social circle for men to refer to each other as boys. For instance, the adult leaders in my Scout troop often use the word with each other. “Okay, boys, time to get supper cooking.” “Any of you boys heard a weather report?” It’s an integrated troop, so we’re not just talking about white men here. So I didn’t think anything of it, until these two co-workers asked me not to. They said “We know you don’t mean anything by it, but we don’t like it.”

The operative sentence there? “I didn’t think anything of it.”  Exactly. It didn’t occur to me how this could have a very different meaning to black men. I wonder now what else I’m doing or saying, without intending disrespect, that is equally wrong.

(Yes, I stopped using the phrase. I would not wish to convey anything but respect or affection for these two, or by extension, to people of color in general. Nice of them to acknowledge that I meant no harm, but in the end, what good are good intentions? Road to hell, right?)

That story goes to highlight the difficulty I have had with addressing this issue. I can’t pretend to be an expert, when I don’t even see my own faults.

I’m a white male. Being white, it’s none of my business to tell people of color how to view their own liberation. Being male, it’s none of my business to tell women how to view their liberation. It’s none of my business to tell either how to progress in that direction.

But the situation isn’t a complete stalemate. White people can have an impact on racism, and men can have an impact on sexism.

There was a time in 1964 when hundreds of brave white college students, both male and female, went to Mississippi for the Freedom Summer. Side by side with black activists, they spread over the state to promote voter registration. Three of these activists – one black, two white – paid the ultimate price. Many more were subjected to various assaults and indignities.

What could be done then can be done now. Whites can stand with blacks, Hispanics, or people of color in general. It may not be as obvious now as it was in 1964 what to do. Many of the most pressing goals of the civil rights movement of that day have now been realized. But racial equality has not arrived. There is much to be done.

It would make a vast difference in how white people relate to racism if they would realize two things.

First, a lot of whites don’t understand the reality of white privilege. They look at their own lives, and see that they aren’t part of the One Percent, so where’s all this privilege people are talking about?

A fish doesn’t know it’s wet, and most whites have no idea how much privilege they have. Just one example: Joe Whiteguy is walking down the street with a couple of friends, and he’s never had the experience of people reacting to him and his pals with automatic fear or suspicion. He’s just minding his own business and not even thinking about it. But if you and your buddies are all black, people react differently. Since Joe’s never been in their shoes, he doesn’t know what a privilege it is to be unnoticed.

As Chris Boeskel said, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

Second, white folks should know that equality for all benefits everyone. It’s not just that the surgeon who saves your life might be a highly skilled black woman or man; that’s almost too easy, although it’s true. The real impact of this is in daily life. If black children get good educations, everyone gets a good education. If black families have affordable housing, everyone has affordable housing. If black people are valued at the workplace, everyone is valued at the workplace. If black people don’t have to be afraid of being shot in cold blood by the police, no one has to be afraid of being shot in cold blood by the police. And so on.

Likewise, while women have advanced since The Feminist Mystique was published (also in 1964), there is still inequality in pay and opportunity. There is still sexual harassment and assault. There are still struggles over maternity leave, child care, and reproductive rights.

I don’t think that one guy, alone, writing an essay like this, can say definitively what all whites or all men should do. Each of us has to find that place where we take our stand in solidarity with the struggles of others.

About all I can say is that whites need to be allies with people of color in overcoming racism, and men need to be allies with women against sexism. Generally speaking, we need to follow their lead. This doesn’t mean that we must be puppets and there is no room for our own conscience or our own will.  It isn’t liberation if anyone has to give up their own personhood for another.  But, equally truly, it isn’t theology if we don’t make sacrifices for each other’s liberation.

In addition to standing with people of color and with women, we need to confront men and white people when they speak or act in sexist or racist ways. Our witness against these forms of oppression means nothing if we don’t fight against them. Further, we are in a better position to know how the racist and sexist mind works, because we know what we had to overcome in our own hearts to take this stand. Plus, there is the power of example. If a black person resists racism, it can be seen by white bigots as self-serving.

This is not just sociologically or politically motivated. The preferential option for the poor is not because they have less money but because they are exploited and oppressed. The same goes for people of color and for women. If God loves mercy and justice, he wants it for all.

Beyond that, I would like for whites and men to see what people of color and women have said about liberation.  James ConeCornel West, and, yes, Malcolm X are good starting points for black liberation theology. Rosemary Radford Reuther and Serene Jones are good starting points for feminist theology. So much better to hear what these men and women have said for themselves than for me to try to summarize or translate it.

Somewhere, I think it needs to be said that what unites us all, what is fundamental to the struggles of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc., is class. Problems of race and gender will not, cannot be solved without economic justice. The powers that be manipulate these distinctions to divide us, to take our attention off the ways in which they exploit us and make us afraid of each other.

I’m not saying that racism and sexism are less important than classism. I am saying that class is the shared factor that bonds men with women; it bonds black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and aboriginal with each other. Class doesn’t transcend these distinctions, it’s the common link. I will have more to say about class in another post in this series.

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