Herbert Marcuse: “The Telos of Tolerance Is Truth” (Notes)

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“… this tolerance cannot be indiscriminate and equal with respect to the contents of expression, neither in word nor in deed; it cannot protect false words and wrong deeds which demonstrate that they contradict and counteract the possibilities of liberation.  Such indiscriminate tolerance is justified in harmless debates, in conversation, in academic discussion; it is indispensable in the scientific enterprise, in private religion.  But society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake: here, certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed, certain behavior cannot be permitted without making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude.” — Herbert Marcuse, Repressive Tolerance (1965)

Concerning society under the capitalist system, Herbert Marcuse writes,”Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.”

“… within a repressive society, even progressive movements threaten to turn into their opposite to the degree to which they accept the rules of the game.”

“Generally, the function and value of tolerance depend on the equality prevalent in the society in which tolerance is practiced. Tolerance itself stands subject to overriding criteria: its range and its limits cannot be defined in terms of the respective society. In other words, tolerance is an end in itself only when it is truly universal, practiced by the rulers as well as by the ruled, by the lords as well as by the peasants, by the sheriffs as well as by their victims. And such universal tolerance is possible only when no real or alleged enemy requires in the national interest the education and training of people in military violence and destruction. As long as these conditions do not prevail, the conditions of tolerance are ‘loaded’: they are determined and defined by the institutionalized inequality (which is certainly compatible with constitutional equality), i.e., by the class structure of society. In such a society, tolerance is de facto limited on the dual ground of legalized violence or suppression (police, armed forces, guards of all sorts) and of the privileged position held by the predominant interests and their ‘connections’.”

“Tolerance toward that which is radically evil now appears as good because it serves the cohesion of the whole on the road to affluence or more affluence.”

“Tolerance is an end in itself. The elimination of violence, and the reduction of suppression to the extent required for protecting man [sic] and animals from cruelty and aggression are preconditions for the creation of a humane society.  Such a society does not yet exist; progress toward it is perhaps more than before arrested by violence and suppression on a global scale. As deterrents against nuclear war, as police action against subversion, as technical aid in the fight against imperialism and communism, as methods of pacification in neo-colonial massacres, violence and suppression are promulgated, practiced, and defended by democratic and authoritarian governments alike, and the people subjected to these governments are educated to sustain such practices as necessary for the preservation of the status quo. Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.”

“Tolerance of free speech is the way of improvement, of progress in liberation, not because there is no objective truth, and improvement must necessarily be a compromise between a variety of opinions, but because there is an objective truth which can be discovered, ascertained only in learning and comprehending that which is and that which can be and ought to be done for the sake of improving the lot of mankind [sic].” (Marcuse)

“Universal toleration becomes questionable when its rationale no longer prevails, when tolerance is administered to manipulated and indoctrinated individuals who parrot, as their own, the opinion of their masters, for whom heteronomy has become autonomy.”

“It is the people who tolerate the government, which in turn tolerates opposition within the framework determined by the constituted authorities.”

“Under a system of constitutionally guaranteed … civil rights and liberties, opposition and dissent are tolerated unless they issue in violence and/or in exhortation to an organization of violent subversion. The underlying assumption is that the established society is free, and that any improvement, even a change in the social structure and social values, would come about in the normal course of events, prepared, defined, and tested in free and equal discussion, on the open marketplace of ideas and goods.”


 

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Herbert Marcuse: “The Telos of Tolerance Is Truth” (Notes)

White Power’s Defeat of the Black Revolution in the 1960s: The Consequences of Imperialism

 

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The individual human will can be a powerful thing.  It’s good that each person’s will is so strong, for this helps each of us to persevere against the biggest odds when our lives are on the line.  And it may also be a good thing whenever the willful individual doesn’t give in to any person who asserts their own will, or whenever this individual doesn’t follow every group that attempts to impose its will on them.

We frequently see this attitude of refusal and independence in little children.  But as they grow up, children learn that it’s in their interests to go along with the group; as adults, they find that they can more effectively get the things they want by obeying or conforming to existing power structures than by throwing temper tantrums.  This is particularly true for white people, for whom the power structures of capitalism have been built.  But even as white adults conform to a system of power built by and for white people– which is the system of European imperialist capitalism– the will of the individual remains strong beneath the surface, particularly the will to defend a system which has brought us everything we have.  The power of the individual will in a white “American” cannot be overestimated.

Prior to the 1960s, “Americans” collectively showed a respect for authority which often approached the level of reverence.  In political offices, the military, media, schools, workplaces, churches, clubs, and families, the prevailing attitude of people in the United States toward any position of authority was one of unquestioning respect.  Some of this conformity of the “American” will was a result of the strict order within a militarized society which occurred during the Second Imperialist War (“World War II”).  The main source of agitation to conditions of the U.S. (supposedly) came from the outside– from Germany and Japan, so the “American” people more or less willingly imposed this strict order on themselves inside of the nation and unified internally against a common enemy or foreign aggressor.  Following 1945, the ruling class of the U.S. opportunistically exploited this militarized, national(ist) mentality to further mobilize the people (and the economy) against another foreign aggressor: the USSR.  Unified by the fear of invading “Communists,” the “American” people projected a facade of bland placidity during the 1950s, while the agitated internal contradictions of imperialist exploitation and white supremacist oppression boiled below the surface.

During the second half of the 1950s and in the early 1960s, Africa was already in the process of rebelling against European imperialist capitalism: in the Congo (Patrice Lumumba), Ghana (Kwame Nkrumah), and in dozens of other colonies on the African continent.  There was also the revolution in Cuba.  And the Vietnamese were rebelling against the French and U.S. imperialists.  A global revolution was in progress as the 1960s began.

In the United States, the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on Brown v. Board of Education had heightened the internal contradictions of white supremacist capitalism.  The system of white power refused to integrate Black people into the post-War political order of the permanently militarized state, which had appeared to be so stable, and yet– at the same time– the federal government was compelled to send the National Guard into Little Rock in order to impose its will.  White power’s will opposed integration, yet it also enforced it, creating a crisis of power within the system: something had to give.

Initially, colonized Africans in “America,” or the Black community, simply wanted access to the existing system of power, one that had terrorized them for so long.  Their will was aligned with the will of the capitalist colonizer (their aggressor, never mind Hitler or Russia), because an attempt at conformity seemed to be the best way to gain access to the material benefits of the system.  Rosa Parks simply tried to sit down on a white-owned bus in Birmingham.  James Meredith simply wanted to enroll in a white-controlled university in Mississippi.  Colonized Africans in the south simply wanted to register to vote as Democrats.  Yet, in each instance white power resisted.  The system (and white people who both support and benefit from the system) refused to allow Africans access to this system.  The alternative (a separate system of power), as promoted by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, became more and more popular among colonized Africans, still terrorized by white power, as they had been when Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) had become so popular in the 1920s, and (of course) long before.

These internal contradictions of white power’s colonial rule imposed on Africans heightened to the point where they boiled over in 1965 during the Watts Rebellion, which occurred after Malcolm X had been assassinated and as the Voting Rights Act was being signed into law.  Patrice Lumumba had been assassinated, with the backing of the CIA, in 1961.  The CIA would back a military coup against Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana in 1966.  But the African revolution– and the world revolution against European imperialist capitalism– had now reached the U.S. settler colony, in the form of Black Power.

Inclusion by a system of power which didn’t want to include them was becoming less and less desirable to colonized Africans, and their resistance to white power’s refusal to integrate was creating a consciousness of their own power, and their own will, and this consciousness shaped a new political identity.  So when Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) called for “Black Power” in 1966, colonized Africans were no longer seeking mere inclusion by a system which refused to include them; they were seeking the same thing as Africans in Africa, as Latin Americans, and as Asians: self-determination, independence, control over their own lives and destinies.  The will of the people was being asserted.

This movement for Black liberation in the 1960s expressed the collective will of the people.  “Black Power” was not about the individual, because white power was (and is) not about the individual.  Africans were (and are) systematically oppressed.  Africans are colonized by a system, a political, economic and social organization which collectively moves against their interests.

There wasn’t one revolutionary Black individual in the 1960s who acted all alone.  Malcolm X was in the Nation of Islam, and then formed the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).  Fannie Lou Hamer was in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).  Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) was in SNCC, along with Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown).  Robert F. Williams and Mabel Williams were in the NAACP– and, during exile, Robert F. Williams was named President of the Republic of New Afrika.  The individual will of Africans colonized by the U.S. capitalist system was expressed through the collective will of these organizations, because Africans, and all oppressed peoples, collectively recognized in their communities that the power of white supremacy and capitalism grew out of its organization.

During this time, the rebellion by the Vietnamese against the ruthless imperialist power of the U.S. was grabbing the attention of the “American people”– specifically white youths.  Young white people were already beginning to experience the physical and emotional rush of rebellion as they moved against the forces of “American” conformity which had kept the people in check since the Second Imperialist War (“World War II”).  White youths not only rebelled against the war in Vietnam but against traditional white attitudes toward sex, drugs, “popular” culture and the roles of white women and white gays in “American” society.  For inspiration, the rebelling white youth of the U.S. in the 1960s looked to the Black revolution and its organized individuals, forming their own groups which seemed to be natural allies to the Black struggle.  The rule of European imperialist capitalism was being threatened on a global scale, from within and without white power’s home base in the U.S. settler colony.

Huey P. Newton recognized these historical forces and counter-forces in the fight for power over the means of production in “American” society when he formed the Black Panther Party with Bobby Seale in 1966.  The Black Panthers sought to create alliances with organizations representing Latinxs, Native peoples, Asians and poor whites.  Huey Newton viewed the Black liberation struggle as a fight by all oppressed peoples against imperialist capitalism.  Huey Newton recognized that these oppressive conditions required a global struggle, so the Black Panther Party also reached out to the Viet Cong, to China, to Cuba, and to revolutionary organizations on the African continent.  The revolution against white power was not only a collective assertion of the people’s will, it was growing into an internationalist movement of organizations aligned against this common enemy of humanity: European imperialism.

Reactionary forces were also at work in the United States during the 1960s, threatening to crush the Black revolution.  These reactionary forces against Black liberation came from all branches of white power: the federal government (FBI, COINTELPRO, Johnson, Nixon), state government (then-Governor Ronald Reagan), city government  (including the police, such as the Chicago Police Department, which worked with the FBI to assassinate Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party), media and other businesses, and the masses of white people.  Ultimately, COINTELPRO and the ruthless power of the white ruling class was responsible for the defeat of the Black revolution in the U.S. during the 1960s, which used the contradictions within the movement against the movement.  The Black revolution, as part of the larger global revolution, was crushed by white power because it became a real threat to the capitalist system’s oligarchical rule over the majority.

However, the defeat of the Black revolution by white power was also brought about by social forces which (like the political and economic forces) have consequences to this day.  In essence, the emphasis on individualism, as promoted by the European imperialist system, crushed the spirit of collective power by the people.  The patriotic ideal of individualism became one of white power’s biggest weapons against the people.  White individuals, who had looked to the Black revolution for inspiration regarding our own rebellion against the system, felt a rush of will power, of resistance, a surge of energy borne of refusal to conform.  Individual anti-authoritarian, nonconformity became the rule of the day– as opposed to collective action against the capitalist system, which was organized and, therefore, actually did rule the day.  The collective will of revolutionary movement building– the work of organizers like Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Huey P. Newton, Elaine Brown, and countless names mostly forgotten by history, which erroneously emphasizes individual achievement– was fractured and dispersed by reactionary forces into millions of individual wills.

The individual will felt a sense of power like never before, a will to proclaim one’s identity, one’s lifestyle, and one’s personal values and personal tastes.  Since the collective will of white power crushed the Black liberation movement– as well as the global socialist revolution against systemic oppression– the legacy of resistance movements of the 1960s has become a liberal, libertarian, individualistic resistance to conformity expressed by singular attitudes, behaviors and other personalized displays of will, which was not the actual goal of the revolution.

Isolated from each other by capitalism’s will, the individual is– in reality– mostly powerless.  Our only actual power comes from the material benefits brought to us by this system.  Therefore, white people enjoy more power (and more wealth), because our material benefits come exclusively from the exploitation of Africans and all oppressed peoples (the majority of the world’s population).

Within the little box of our individual domain, we rule.  Nobody can convince us to do this or not to do that.  But the box itself is manufactured by USA, Inc., by the system of white power– and the materials and labor for it are stolen from Africans and all colonized peoples.  We can smoke pot, get drunk, have any type of sex we like, watch any show we want, tweet to our heart’s (dis)content, shout, sing, cry, laugh, pout– but we are empowered to do all these things only by our access to resources, and these exist for white people only on account of the oppression of Africans and most people on the planet.

In reality, our physical positions within the system of power are more fixed than ever.  Perhaps this is why our individual will is so strong: it’s all we have.  Real power is in the hands of the white ruling class, which will crush us if we display the slightest amount of resistance– so we cling to whatever ability to refuse we have that is left over.

White people in particular learned the wrong lessons from the Black revolution of the 1960s.  We took inspiration from a global movement, led by Africans, that was based on their life-and-death struggle for resources and power, and turned this collective resistance into an individual expression of rebelliousness.  White people thought it was cool to call the police “pigs” and give the middle finger to “The Man.”  Whites recognized the feeling of power that Black people were experiencing when they began to become conscious of their collective power as a political identity, and we appropriated this Blackness as an expression of customized personal style, and unique values and views, tailored to meet individual needs for self-actualization and self-assertion in a claustrophobic system of capitalist control.

In the 1960s, white people– who benefited, then as now, from the systemic oppression of Black people– also felt oppressed by this system of power, boxed in by its cookie-cutter attitudes, its dull conformity and its post-War militarized sense of order.  Yet, for most white youths, this rebellion against the forces of conformity was fought on top conditions that were the result of imperialist oppression.  So their rebelliousness, as a class of colonizers, was about idealism rather than physical matter– the necessities of life.  The lesson white people learned from the 1960s was to enjoy the material benefits of colonial exploitation while rebelling against the idealism– or the “image”– of this conservative racial caste system.

One Black leader and writer in the 1960s who misread white people’s rebellious behavior and attitudes toward the Black revolution was Eldridge Cleaver.  While the prose style of Soul on Ice is brilliant, Eldridge Cleaver actually attacks James Baldwin for criticizing Norman Mailer, defending the white Norman Mailer as someone who understood Black people more than James Baldwin did.  Huey P. Newton didn’t completely fall for this nonsense when he asked Eldridge Cleaver to join the Black Panther Party, a move which turned out to be disastrous to the party.  But the Black Panthers trusted the rebellious spirit of white people– particularly young white leftists– perhaps more than they should have.  Fred Hampton famously said, “You don’t fight racism with racism.”  But Black people can’t be racist, not against white people in the U.S. at any rate– not then, and not now.  Racism is based on a system of power and the ability to control people.  On account of white power, Black people don’t have that ability– they can’t be racist.  But Fred Hampton’s famous line reflected the attitudes that Eldridge Cleaver and Huey P. Newton also held toward white people: we should not be excluded.  This proved to be a mistake, because white people were in the process of learning the wrong lessons from the Black revolution, one of individual rebelliousness rather than organized, collective, principled rebellion against the system which white people benefit from.

Kwame Ture recognized this contradiction in the attitudes and behaviors of white people on the left and wanted to exclude whites from the Black Panther Party (as had occurred in SNCC).  For this reason, the Black Panthers turned against Kwame Ture and– if Eldridge Cleaver’s people didn’t murder him, through the deceitful manipulations of COINTELPRO– the government would have found some way to eliminate Stokely (as he was called then).  So Kwame Ture went to Africa (to Guinea-Conakry) in the late 1960s and studied revolutionary theory under the mentorship of Sekou Ture and Kwame Nkrumah.

COINTELPRO and white power were going to crush the Black revolution either way– whether the Black Panther Party had chosen the path which Kwame Ture advocated, or had gone (as it did) down the path chosen by Eldridge Cleaver, who was infatuated by white leftists and the individualistic ideal of the stylish rebel.  And the consequences of this choice, long after the Black revolution was destroyed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, have had a devastating impact on the global movement for liberation.  The image of the cool, rebellious non-conformist has become a marketable commodity which the very system that crushed the Black revolution can profit from.

Almost every so-called “American” today has a bit of that 1960s revolutionary in their persona.  Whether it’s their taste in music, their use of slang, or a T-shirt they are wearing, every individual wants to be some kind of rebel.  And who can stop them?  Their will is too strong.  It would be an oppressive act– considered immoral to the true socialist revolutionary– to coerce a person to do something they don’t want to do.  And they probably wouldn’t do it anyway.  Since the defeat of the African revolution in the 1960s, the will power of the individual has been built up by the system which holds the actual power (for it controls access to material resources that support the individual).  In 2015, the so-called “American” individual has an impenetrable, unbending will, a brittle resolve to do whatever they want to do– all within the confines of what white power makes possible for them.

The defeat of the Black revolution in the 1960s has had the devastating consequence of fracturing the collective will of the masses into millions and millions of unbreakable, inflexible wills– each individual clinging to their coping mechanisms within the ever-increasing power of European imperialist capitalism.  The energy of the people, which would be directed against the source of their oppression, is redirected into the operation of high-tech devices and their predictable framework of for-profit media.  The uniformity of the medium, and of each device’s design, homogenizes the expression of free speech, and diverts the energy of resistance into these carefully controlled paths– as any display of collective will is siphoned off into various channels of specific “demographics” or “target audiences.”  Everything is tailor-made to the individual, creating the illusion of control, while the real power– which profits off the people’s labor and resources– lies with the wealthy few.

While the masses focus on the individualized coping mechanisms for oppression, European capitalist imperialism consolidates its power and grows and grows, creating ever more oppression.  Yet the people’s refusal is not against the system (which they may feel is simply too powerful to resist) but, instead, is against the voices of dissent coming from the oppressed, exploited masses.  Activists in the Black Lives Matter movement are criticized far more harshly than the police actually committing violence are criticized.  The will power of the individual– particularly if they are white– is expressed by their rigid refusal to pay attention, and instead, just to keep driving, or to keep scrolling down the page on Facebook, or to change channels.  Meanwhile, the sense of freedom– “Casual Fridays” and saying “fuck”– reaffirms the white person’s post-1960s identity of the autonomous individual.  The more oppressive European imperialist capitalism becomes, the more we cling to these little expressions of individualized identity.

The (concluding) question is: are volatile or unstable material conditions for revolution still a trigger for resistance against the oppressor by the oppressed masses, or has European imperialism– having defeated the Black revolution in the 1960s– simply become too skillful in its manipulation of our collective psyche for the people to see organized rebellion as anything other than a crazy, cult-like, and practically (or impractically) suicidal move?

But there’s another question: can any movement for mass political education be viewed by the masses as materially beneficial to humanity (and to themselves, as members of humanity), or is the individual will so resistant to rational, scientific persuasion, that any effort to educate them can only be seen by this refusing individual as a form of oppression?

White Power’s Defeat of the Black Revolution in the 1960s: The Consequences of Imperialism

The White Liberal and Racism

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Morality does not determine history.  History is determined by the masses’ ongoing struggle for power over the means of production within the evolving material conditions of society, which then become the basis for our morality.

What people feel, think and say about themselves– and about the world around them– is quite often an inaccurate reflection of their actual material position in the world.  A person’s stated morality frequently does not match their impact on humanity and the planet.  This difference between what we say and where we are (that is, the difference between morality and matter) is not based on personal dishonesty, but, rather, on a system of wealth and power which requires such a difference, and, furthermore, requires our ignorance about this difference.  For when we become conscious of this difference, our consciousness becomes a threat to the source of the system’s wealth and power: we are no longer focused on how we feel about things, but on the actual things— the materials which are controlled by a political system for its benefit.

If we were to attempt to understand the world according to what white people say about it, and attempt to understand ourselves by what we say about ourselves, it would be fairly clear that white people care about “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “evil.”  Determining exactly what is “right” and what is “wrong”– or what is “good” and what is “evil”– is cause for endless debate: in political campaigns, on television, on Twitter and other media, and among friends, family and coworkers.  Each of us wants to believe we are “moral”– we are good, decent individuals.  Whenever we argue with people about what we believe to be moral, we (subjectively) differentiate between what we say is “right” and “good” and what they say is “right” and “good”– which we judge to be “wrong” or “evil.”

Whenever people argue that what they believe is moral, there really isn’t any argument about whether their belief is correct or incorrect: they are correct that they do believe that.  And their opponent is also correct that they do, in fact, believe what they are saying– unless one of them is being dishonest, but this too doesn’t make a material difference.  Because neither one of them is actually arguing about the world itself, but only about how they feel regarding the world (whether they are speaking honestly or dishonestly).

But when we look at the objective reality of the world– at even just a map of it– we begin to understand the material foundation for our arguments about morality.  Let’s take England as an example.  Here is a cluster of islands off the European continent, rather small in physical comparison with the rest of the planet.  Yet English-speaking people– particularly white people (Anglo-Saxons)– have come to dominate the world.  English-speaking people conquered most of the “North American” continent: occupied Indigenous lands now called “Canada” and the “United States,” as well as land stolen from Mexico.  White people in the united former colonies of Britain have settled all across a land mass which was once inhabited entirely by Indigenous nations, and this settler colony (the United States) has come to dominate the majority of the world: politically, economically, militarily.

We also find English-speaking white people building a replica of England in Australia, once inhabited exclusively by the Aboriginal peoples of that continent, indigenous to their land just as the Native peoples of the Americas are here.

Wherever Africans, Asians, and “Latin Americans” live in the world, they learn English, the language of this small cluster of islands.   Famously, or (infamously) England was “the empire on which the sun never set”– and perhaps still is.

Of course, England has not been alone in Europe’s exploitation and domination of the globe: it has been joined by Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and nearly every other western European nation.  The wealth of Europe, and its settler colonies like the United States, Canada and Australia, has blossomed in the rich soil of exploited lands and peoples.

So tell me: what in the world does morality have to do with any of this?

By examining the actual material and historical conditions of Europe, and of England in particular, we find that the gap between (subjective) morality and objective reality is very great.  It is for this reason England and the English promote a cultural or moral identity which emphasizes politeness, civilization, character and Christian values.  But if we look at the actual words of Jesus in the Christian Bible, can we say that the historical behavior of England and Europe has reflected his religious teachings in the least?

In essence, white people have become experts in saying one thing about ourselves (and others), while doing quite the opposite.  The language we use is often elegant, precise, subtle, persuasive.  Yet our behavior is that of a ruthless butcher hacking away at the bodies of children, imprecisely slipping this way and that on a path of blood, with our one means of persuasion being our unlimited capacity for violence, which is anything but subtle in its rape, plunder, and red-faced brutality inflicted on anyone who stands in our way.  After such staggeringly violent behavior, white people need a strong sense of morality, expressed by a pretty language, to conceal the stench of death below us.

England’s real claim to fame is its willingness to commit any amount of atrocities against humanity in order to gain wealth and power– and that’s why England and Europe dominate the globe.  It’s certainly not on account of morality.  Our morality is simply the difference or the void that white people fill between unmatched levels of genocidal violence and our (subjective) desire to believe we are right, decent and justified in our actions.  White people invent the soothing language of morality in order to obscure the agitated material reality of our violence.

For white conservatives, there is less of a gap between genocidal behavior and moral language.  There are always the white people who have the mentality of “kill them all” or “might makes right.”  This is why conservative whites tend to dominate business, military and politics under capitalism (even when they supposedly aren’t in power).  Morality is less of an issue for them because their morality more closely resembles their behavior.  If we watch Fox News even for two minutes (that is, if we can endure it), we find a mentality which is totally comfortable and confident sneering at the suffering of humanity, a bellicosity which never abstains from advocating war, and an endlessly glossy parade of gleeful, simple celebrations of Whiteness.

“American” conservatives are unashamed white nationalists, their morality unclouded by self-criticism (“revisionist history”), empathy (“wimpy political correctness”) or intellectual curiosity (“too much book-learning”).  Conservatives get right down to the basics: bomb them, beat them, profit off them and watch the stock market rise.  This isn’t to state that conservatives are honest about who they are.  That would perhaps be a wildly inaccurate statement on my part.  Conservatives have simply (or simplistically) invented a morality which matches the physical reality of European imperialist capitalism’s wealth and power.  Yes, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing among conservatives about Christian values; but then, to the “American” conservative, Christianity is obviously nothing more than an expression of white nationalism.

What about the “American” liberal?

Assata Shakur wrote:

“I have never really understood exactly what a ‘liberal’ is, since I’ve heard ‘liberals’ express every conceivable opinion on every conceivable subject. As far as I can tell, you have the extreme right, who are fascist, racist capitalist dogs like Ronald Reagan, who come right out and let you know where they’re from. And on the opposite end, you have the left, who are supposed to be committed to justice, equality, and human rights. And somewhere between these two points is the liberal. As far as I’m concerned, ‘liberal’ is the most meaningless word in the dictionary. History has shown me that as long as some white middle class people can live high on the hog, take vacations to Europe, send their children to private schools, and the reap the benefits of their white skin privileges, then they are ‘liberals’. But when times get hard and money gets tight, they pull off that liberal mask and you think you’re talking to Hitler. They feel sorry for the so-called underprivileged just as long as they can maintain their own privileges.”

In terms of material conditions, there is no difference between the white liberal and the white conservative.  Objectively, the white liberal lives on the same occupied land of Indigenous peoples, benefits from the same U.S. exploitation of the majority of humanity, and enjoys the same “white skin privileges” as the white conservative.  The only difference is that a white liberal may start to feel bad about this reality, and this gap between their morality and the material basis for this morality leads to guilt.  If we go back to the observation that Europeans are experts in saying one thing and doing another– in creating infinitely subtle, passive aggressive language in order to obscure our actual aims– we find that the white liberal must invent a more complex morality to match their disquieted comprehension of violent European imperialist behavior.

Therefore, the white liberal is the greater expert in the construction of the elaborate, sophisticated language of morality which is used to mask the true imperialistic behavior which supports all whites.  Some of this guilt or anxiety felt by the white liberal is deflected– or redirected– at conservatives: they are to blame for all these horrible things happening in the world.  Yet who benefits from these violent acts?  White people.  White conservatives, white libertarians, white liberals– and, for that matter, white socialist revolutionaries.

All white people benefit from a system of parasitic European capitalism.  Our very existence is dependent upon the oppression of Africans and the rest of humanity.  Yet white people invent different ways of speaking about (or avoiding) the reality of violent exploitation.  The material conditions of white people are more or less the same; only our (subjective) judgment of these conditions differs.  White individuals speak the moral language which provides the most psychological comfort to each of us; yet our collective ability to speak, think, feel and live at all is based on the objective reality of white power’s control over our access to resources.

White liberals drive on the same freeways as white conservatives, burning the same gasoline in cars manufactured by the same capitalist system of oppression, and pull into the same middle-class white neighborhoods in a nation which is essentially still segregated by race.  Portland, Oregon is a very liberal city.  Yet Black and Brown people are priced out of Portland, and literally cannot afford to live in this haven of progressive, inclusive open-mindedness.  No matter what white liberals in Portland say about themselves or about the world, and no matter what their moral beliefs are, the physical reality of their behavior is the displacement and further impoverishment of Black and Brown people.  In reality, Portland is a very white city.  It’s a haven for whiteness.  Portland’s inclusiveness is only decorative.  Its mind may be open, but its economic opportunities are closed to people who aren’t white.  That’s the material reality of Portland, which isn’t unique: it’s the material reality of the United States.

The question is: can white liberals become conscious of this gap between who they say they are (their morality) and the actual material conditions under white settler colonialism?   Put another way: is there any difference between white liberals and conservatives when it comes to educating them about the reality of material conditions in the U.S. settler colony, in order to change actual white behavior?

The answer lies in the ability of the white liberal to approach white imperialist behavior using the scientific theories of revolution.  White liberals (and some conservatives) place great faith in science.  We benefit materially from scientific knowledge.  Yet white people then turn to our (always subjective) morality in order to idealize our physical situation which rests upon these benefits of science.  We value knowledge if we can use it as an object: a thing.  Then our lazy, hazy idealism kicks in, and we begin to argue about how we feel about all this knowledge.  Again– nobody is wrong.  Because the focus is on feelings which arise from material conditions, rather than the actual conditions.  Feelings aren’t wrong.  But white people (liberal, conservative, or otherwise) can only begin to grasp the reality of European imperialism after we have moved beyond our (subjective) feelings and judgments about who we are and what the world is.

For instance, no white person wants to be called a “racist.”  Yet all white people are racist.  Yes, all white people are racist.  But the white liberal angrily or defensively shrinks from this reality, because they interpret it to be an attack on their morality– a negative label attached to who they are.  They subjectively (and understandably) want to be good.  They must be good.  Racism is bad.  Therefore, that can’t be who they are.  And the negative reaction of white liberals to what they perceive to be an attempt to attach a negative label on them leads to additional racist behavior.  The reaction of a racist white person (who could be any white person) to the observation that they are racist is most often also racist, because it’s defensive.  Their reaction is equally aggressive (to the force of the perceived threat), resulting in self-righteous defense intended to relieve what they (subjectively) feel is an injury to their ideal sense of being, and not just a description of the world.

Bertrand Russell said, “Those who forget good and evil and seek only to know the facts are more likely to achieve good than those who view the world through the distorting medium of their own desires.”

White people are so afraid of “evil” racism that we don’t actually “view the world” or racism as it is: we see it only through the “distorting medium” of our “desires.”  White people look at racism through the distorting desire not to be racist– that is, not to be “evil.”  As we do with most of our problems, whites approach the problem of racism as a personal moral issue rather than a systemic issue that requires objective, scientific knowledge of the system (and the material conditions under its power).

Bertrand Russell also said, “Every man [sic], wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.” 

Once white people have removed the sting of the “racist” label from our idealized sense of self, we feel comfortable going on our way, insulated from the grim reality of our behavior and the inequality in the conditions which support us.  We believe we are good, so all must be right on heaven and earth; now we can rest easy in our newly renovated house in Northeast Portland.

This is the downfall of the white liberal.  It’s not a moral downfall: it’s a failure of the senses and of the critical faculty, a failure of the white liberal’s belief in the ideal of liberalism itself, rather than in a rational understanding of objective reality.  A final quote by Bertrand Russell: “What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.”

But if white liberals are to become conscious of the material reality of their racism, the first thing they will want to do is “find out” what racism actually is.  They will get beyond the labels of “good” and “bad” and what they believe to be “right” and “wrong.”  These labels aren’t the basis of history.  People must eat whether it’s right or wrong for them to steal food.  And capitalism must oppress the many for the benefit of the few, with moral beliefs nowhere in sight.  In one sense, oppression isn’t a moral issue; it’s a question of inequality or imbalance in material conditions.

So what is “racism”?

Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton define racism in their book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation:

“By ‘racism’ we mean the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group  and maintaining control over that group.”

The authors of Black Power go on to explain the differences between “overt racism” and “covert racism.”  So the white liberal will want to read this book by Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton if it is their desire to understand and address racism in the United States.  The authors discuss these racist acts and attitudes in the context of “institutional racism”:

“Institutional racism relies on the active and pervasive operation of anti-black attitudes and practices.  …  institutional racism has another name: colonialism.”

If the white liberal can move beyond not only the value judgments of the term “racist” but also the invisible concept of “racism,” they will begin to recognize that the material basis of racism is colonialism.  The problem is colonialism.  We can’t see racism.  Racism isn’t a person, a building, a piece of land, or a big sign above it.  These things express racism— that is, they suggest the existence of a problem and are interpreted as being racist.  But when we focus on the concept of racism, rather than its colonial basis, it becomes a subjective argument about whether these specific expressions or suggestions are racist or not– based on what we judge to be racist.  What is not debatable is the colonial basis of these things.  We can’t see the concept.  But we can’t help but recognize the material reality of colonialism as it relates to Black people in the United States.

Why are white people on land once exclusively inhabited by Native nations?  Why are Black people– Africans– also on this land?  The answer is colonialism.  When we begin to look at racism in this context of colonialism, we recognize that the issues of inequality and injustice go back to the problem of colonialism.  White privilege, white fragility, microaggressions, tokenism, cultural appropriation, and– yes– gentrification, all go back to the source, or root cause, of these forms of oppression: colonialism.  The same is true of the prison-industrial complex, the school-to-prison pipeline, and, of course, police brutality.  These are demonstrable, measurable phenomena which occur in a system of colonial capitalism.  They are phenomena we can define and describe, and then discuss, rather than simply talking about our personal feelings and our individual morality.

If the white liberal can begin to recognize the historical and material basis of racism, perhaps they will organize to move against the system of colonialism.   Yet every white person draws an invisible line in the metaphorical sand: we will go that far, but not beyond it.  I will take some actions to fight white supremacist colonialism, but my invisible line is drawn at that self-defined limit which is the refusal to give up my apartment and belongings to an Indigenous person, and leave the country– and go back to England.  And that line becomes my complicity in genocide.

Every white person has this imaginary line that we draw, which we refuse to cross where our own material advantage is concerned.  Yes, we’re against racism.  Yes, we are able to recognize colonialism.  Yet are we willing to give up a full stomach and a warm bed in order to end colonialism?  Not on your life.  Or, rather, not on my life.  This line is where material benefits end and morality begins.  There’s plenty of room for us to move materially around on the moralistic side of this line– it’s the strictly materialist side that is walled off by a thousand comforts, and idealistic excuses which are tailored to fit the supposed uniqueness of each individual.

The white liberal’s line might drawn farther out than the conservative’s line, and not as far out as the white socialist revolutionary’s line.  That distance (whatever it is) is the difference between the stated morality of whites and our material position.  This difference can be judged in terms of smugness, arrogance and any other racist attitudes of whites which arise from a material advantage created by capitalist exploitation.  But it’s only a question of where we’re going to draw the line until the colonized working class peoples of the world draw it– or redraw it– without consulting our feelings about it first.

It’s safe to say, the conservative is aligned with the enemy: European imperialist capitalism.  They show who they are.  They simply do not care about racism.  The white socialist revolutionary is on the margin, able to describe what they cannot change.  So the white liberal becomes the key figure in the struggle between the capitalists and the working class, because their education– or re-education– can become a mass reorganization of consciousness.

A revolution only comes from the masses, not the margins; it originates in a mass revolutionary consciousness, and the majority of “leftists” in the U.S. are white liberals.  A white supporter of Bernie Sanders is much closer to recognizing the material basis of colonial control, and becoming revolutionary, than the supporter of Ted Cruz or some other Republican (take your pick). [12/8/2017 Note: maybe not any closer at all]

Or is the white liberal willing to confront their own racism more than any other white person is?  Perhaps this is only a wish on my part, and a mere reflection of my own racist investment in the spoils of capitalist exploitation which are the basis of my own life.   Can white people become politically conscious?  Perhaps not: with white people, each of us has our own invisible line that we draw in the sand, enjoying our colonizer’s lifestyle on this side, at the expense of the masses beyond the other side of the line.

Whites willfully cling to our own little guarded comfort, regardless of who suffers, and create the moral language for it later …  until we are forced by conditions to do otherwise.

 

 

 

 

The White Liberal and Racism

The “Combahee River Collective Statement” revisited

CombaheeRiverCollective

The Combahee River Collective was an organization of Black feminists “who had been meeting together since 1974” when they released the Combahee River Collective Statement in April of 1977.  The Combahee River Collective took their name from the action led by Harriet Tubman on June 2, 1863 at the Combahee River in South Carolina, which is the only military action in the history of the U.S. settler colony that was planned and led by a Black woman.  This military action resulted in the freedom of 750 enslaved Africans.

Some notable members of the Combahee River Collective were Cheryl Clarke, Audre Lorde, Chirlane McCray, and twin sisters Barbara Smith and Beverly Smith.

All quotes below are from this historic document: The Combahee River Collective Statement.

During a series of retreats in the Northeast in the mid-1970s, the members of the Combahee River Collective were “involved in the process of defining and clarifying [their] politics.”  The “most general statement” of their politics was that they were “actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression.”  The Collective worked to create an “integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.”  So one can see how the work of the Collective both anticipated and led to the development of intersectional theory, with the recognition that “major systems of oppression” are “interlocking”: racism, sexism, homophobia and capitalism.

The Collective stated that the “origins” of “Black feminism” were found “in the historical reality of Afro-American women’s continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation.”  So this was a struggle of vital importance– as in life itself depended on it– and it was a liberation struggle.  Black feminism, as stated by the Collective, is a freedom struggle, not only similar to the African liberation struggle, but an integral part of the ongoing movement for African liberation.

The word “survival” recalls the “survival programs” of the Black Panther Party, such as the free breakfast programs and free health clinics.  During the same era that the Collective was meeting in the Northeast, and was in the process of developing this document, Elaine Brown was serving as Chairman of the Black Panther Party (1974-1977) and was successfully leading these “survival programs” in the Bay Area.

The Collective had what Elaine Brown calls “a correct analysis” when they stated the “American political system” was a system of “white male rule” which had an “extremely negative relationship” with Black women.  According to the Collective, Black women have always “embodied an adversary stance” to this system of white male rule, and Black feminism was an “outgrowth” of the long history of Black resistance, as exemplified by famous Black women such as “Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell.”

In the 1960s “both outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself” caused Second-wave Feminism to “obscure the participation” of “Black and other Third World” women.  Like Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and other African revolutionaries, the Collective used language that reflected the reality of a “Third World” struggle against Europe during the 1960s.  The term “people of color” or “women of color” would be popularized in academia and activism in the decades following the Combahee River Collective’s work.  Yet in the 1960s, when Second-wave Feminism was on the rise among white women, nations of the “Third World” in Latin America, Asia and (of course) Africa were engaged in revolutionary struggles with European colonialism, and Black feminism originated in these struggles.

As the Collective states:

“Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for Black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of us were active in those movements (Civil Rights, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers), and all of our lives were greatly affected and changed by their ideologies, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals.”

Contradictions within the Black liberation movement, heightened and exploited by COINTELPRO, and every other arm of the white supremacist system of colonialism, led to the “disillusionment” of Black feminists with this movement.  This disillusionment did not lead to inaction or withdrawal, but rather to the development of “a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of Black and white men.”  The system of “white male rule” had divided the Black liberation movement as the layers of oppressive domination pitted Black people against each other.

Yet the fearless expression of a shared identity within a community strengthens the revolutionary movement of that community.  Black feminists had “politically realized … the seemingly personal experiences of individual Black women’s lives.”  This included not only Black feminists, but all Black women who share similar experiences and, therefore, a similar identity within the Black community.  The system of racist, sexist, homophobic and capitalist rule oppressed the expression of this shared experience and identity, creating a kind of “craziness” prior to “becoming conscious” of “the political analysis and practice” used by Black women to struggle against this oppression.  When a particular group is empowered, and speaks out– after having been previously silenced– and defines who they are, realizing their own inner strength as a source for positive change, this is not divisive but rather is a force of new energy (and vital perspective) for revolutionary movements.

Prior to Black feminism, the “racial politics” within the U.S. settler colony had prevented Black women from looking “more deeply into [their] own experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness” to “build a politics” that would “change” their “lives and inevitably end [their] oppression.”  This process of becoming conscious and of realizing the power of the erotic (as Audre Lorde discussed in her famous article) was part of the process of adding to the strength of the African liberation movement.  Black women used “tokenism” in the European imperialist system “of education and employment,” not to leave their sisters behind, but to “fight” their “oppression” from within.  The power of Black feminists was not absorbed by the system of colonial control, because Black feminists, instead, were using their power to fight “heterosexism and economic oppression under capitalism.”

Anticipating Tamara Winfrey Harris’s new book The Sisters Are Alright, the Collective stated their “shared belief that Black women are inherently valuable.” [emphasis added]  There’s nothing wrong with Black women– it’s the system that’s the problem.  Yet progressive movements up to that point had failed to consider Black women’s “specific oppression as a priority” and had not “worked seriously for the ending of that oppression.”  The Collective’s statement was based on the principle of self-determination: “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us.”

The Statement continues:

“We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.”

This was a “revolutionary concept”– the object of oppression collectively becoming the subject of their own struggle against this oppression.  The Collective stated: “We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.”  As subjects of their “own identity,” Black feminist women defined the terms of their demands in their own struggle: “to be recognized as human.”  Only Black women could and can speak for Black women.

Addressing homophobia, the Collective states:

“We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in Black women’s lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously.”

Black lesbians are socially located at the politically specific intersection of these categorized identities: Black, woman and lesbian.  Previous movements had separated these identities, speaking of the “civil rights movement,” the “gay rights movement” and the “women’s rights movement,” none of which addressed the specific oppression of Black lesbians.  Black feminism became necessary, because such a void existed in these movements.  Was this divisive?

“Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand.”  The Collective recognized that “the situation as Black people necessitates” that they “have solidarity around the fact of race” and that this was not the case with white women and and white men.  The system of white supremacist capitalism impacts white women and white men differently than it does Black women and Black men.  Therefore, the Collective saw the need to “struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.”  One can subjectively believe that the latter struggle, rather than dividing Black people, strengthens their unity by working out the contradictions of sexism within the ideology and actions of the African revolution.

The Black feminists of the Combahee River Collective were socialist revolutionaries:

“We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses. Material resources must be equally distributed among those who create these resources.”

As with African Internationalism, which is the political ideology of the African People’s Socialist Party, the Collective’s members were “not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation.”  That is, the European subjectivity of Marxism was inadequate for their struggle.  The ideology of the revolution needed to be centered on the subjects of their struggle: Black women and Black men (and, one assumes, Black genderfluid people).

At the time– and the same is no less true today– the Collective saw the need to address “the specific class position of Black women who are generally marginal in the labor force” with some Black women viewed by the system as “desirable tokens at white-collar and professional levels.”  The Collective pointed to the “real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives.”  It seems this was a fight against racially colorblind assimilation and absorption by the reigning system of capitalist and white supremacist patriarchy, which remains the fight today.

“Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women.”

The Collective states that “the personal is the political,” a powerful theory.  Even the way Black women talk (“in Black language”) is an expression of this political identity.  It’s not simply a matter of style, but is a political and cultural force of asserting one’s identity in a system which is hostile to this identity.  The Collective states: “No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of Black women’s lives.”  Is this like Socrates’ famous words about the “life not examined”?  Please see the penultimate paragraph of Section 2 of this document for a further exploration of Black women’s shared political identity.

In the final paragraph of this second section– titled “What We Believe”– the Collective states they “reject the stance of Lesbian separatism.”  The Collective “had a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and how they oppress.”  And why not?  However, the Collective rejected the “misguided notion” of “biological maleness” making “men what they are.”  They found “any type of biological determinism a particularly dangerous and reactionary basis upon which to build a politic.”  The Collective recognized the limiting political effect of Lesbian separatism which “completely denies any but the sexual sources of women’s oppression, negating the facts of class and race.”

In Section 3 of the document, the Collective states the “Problems in Organizing Black Feminists.”  The Combahee River Collective “experienced success and defeat, joy and pain, victory and failure.”  The Collective “found that it [was] very difficult to organize around Black feminist issues, difficult even to announce in certain contexts that” they were “Black feminists.”  In contrast, “the white women’s movement continue[d] to be strong and to grow in many directions.”  What were “the general reasons for the organizing problems” Black feminists “faced”?

“The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have.”

This statement reveals how white women benefit from racial oppression, and heterosexual white women additionally benefit from systemic homophobia, and wealthy or middle-class white women benefit from capitalist oppression.  “White Feminism” fails to recognize these realities within the white supremacist system.

The fight by Black women against a system of oppression was, and, is not merely fought in classrooms, or scholarly retreats or study sessions: it is part of the daily struggle of living.  As such, the ” psychological toll of being a Black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated.”

“There is a very low value placed upon Black women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist.”

One reflects on the current Black Lives Matter movement and the Black women activists who lead it, as well as visible Black women on Twitter, who are viewed as strong– almost indestructible– because their resistance to white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism requires such strength in order to survive.  Yet this society places “a very low value” on “Black women’s psyches.”

Perhaps the most powerful sentence in the entire Combahee River Collective Statement is [emphasis most definitely added]:

If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.

These powerful words echo the motto of the association of Black women’s clubs in the early 20th century (as quoted by Angela Davis): “Lifting As We Climb.”  Their “position at the bottom” means that empowering Black women, centering their ideas, identities, voices and work (and paying them for it) will lift all oppressed peoples whose social locations are at the intersections of race, gender, sexual orientation, and class.

The document goes on to discuss how “the reaction of Black men to feminism has been notoriously negative. They are, of course, even more threatened than Black women by the possibility that Black feminists might organize around our own needs.”

I will stay out of this potential disagreement within the Black community, believing it is something they can work out on their own without my intrusion.  However, it is objectively true that there still remain ‘[a]ccusations that Black feminism divides the Black struggle,” which the Collective believed, at that time, were “powerful deterrents to the growth of an autonomous Black women’s movement.”

Moving ahead …

In 1976, the Collective decided to “become a study group.”  Study groups are an empowering method for an oppressed group to engage in mass political education which is guided by a shared revolutionary ideology.  The African women and men of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party emphasize the importance of study groups of this type to this day.

The Statement continues:

“We feel that it is absolutely essential to demonstrate the reality of our politics to other Black women and believe that we can do this through writing and distributing our work. The fact that individual Black feminists are living in isolation all over the country, that our own numbers are small, and that we have some skills in writing, printing, and publishing makes us want to carry out these kinds of projects as a means of organizing Black feminists as we continue to do political work in coalition with other groups.”

Black feminists on so-called Black Twitter share a community of identity, thought and experience, exchanging ideas and writings from various regions of the U.S. settler colony in which they live, as well as throughout the rest of the world, rather than “living in isolation.”  Social media, while controlled by the capitalist system of oppression, is still a positive means of bringing together– and hopefully, “organizing”– Black feminists.

In Section Four, we find that the Collective was, of course, much more than a study group but also an activist group on the ground.  They planned “to become involved in workplace organizing at a factory that employs Third World women or picket a hospital that is cutting back on already inadequate health care to a Third World community, or set up a rape crisis center in a Black neighborhood.”

Specific issues that the Collective focused on (and had already worked on at the time of this document) were “sterilization abuse, abortion rights, battered women, rape and health care.”

What if Black women organized to create their own version of Planned Parenthood, free from the control of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy?  These clinics could be similar to the free health clinics set up by the Black Panther Party, and would be revolutionary in their role– providing an essential service to the community, so that, when the colonizing oppressor attacks members of this pro-Black organization, the Black masses rally to defend the group who are serving their needs and interests.  I’ll leave that question to the Black community– and, in fact, not even direct it at them.  Even so, it’s intriguing to consider the existence of a Black-controlled Planned Parenthood, independently serving Black women without the intrusions of a racist and sexist government controlled by profit-seeking corporations.

The Statement continues: “We have also done many workshops and educationals on Black feminism on college campuses, at women’s conferences, and most recently for high school women.”  The African American Policy Forum, co-founded by Kimberlé Crenshaw, continues the work of mass education around race and gender, centering the lives of Black women and girls in an ongoing series of webinars, workshops and conferences.

The Collective states that they “have begun to address … racism in the white women’s movement.”

“As Black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and Black history and culture.” [emphasis added]

The Collective identified that “eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do.”  This work is still necessary.

In the final paragraph of their historic document, the Collective compellingly states: “Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving ‘correct’ political goals.”  The Collective displayed a flexibility in the “means” toward achieving their “end.”  As revolutionaries they “believed in a collective process” and as Black feminist revolutionaries they believed in “a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society.”

The Combahee River Collective Statement, like the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program, and Marcus Garvey’s “Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World,” remains an essential document in the African liberation movement.  It’s difficult to imagine any European revolutionary understanding the objectives and ideology of the African revolution without internalizing the message of this statement.  Why?  First, it’s important to remember that the Combahee River Collective (like Harriet Tubman) was revolutionary.  Second, if white people have grasped the meaning of this document, we will have recognized how important it is for us to listen to Black women’s voices and center their identities, ideas and very lives, which is a “lifetime of work and struggle”:

“As Black feminists and Lesbians we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.”

The “Combahee River Collective Statement” revisited

Law Enforcement and The Rich White Man’s Constitution

AGross

There is no such thing as a good cop.  And there are two reasons for this:

First, whenever the bad cops shoot unarmed people and do other wrong things, we don’t hear about any good cop turning in these bad cops, or participating in protests against them, even though the bad cops make them look bad too.

The second reason there is no such thing as a good cop is that it’s the uniform that’s the problem, not the actual person inside the uniform.  As soon as this person puts on that blue uniform, they are empowered by an entire system to enforce the rule of this system, with legal backing from this system’s government.  My racist uncle can say a lot of bad things, but he’s not a cop– if he were to put on the uniform of a cop, his racist attitudes would be empowered by the system and he could get away with all sorts of violent behavior against Black people (some of which he could very likely get away with right now, as a matter of fact).

So it’s the system that’s the problem.  The police simply enforce the rule of the system and, inside their blue uniforms, are (one might say) dehumanized tools of systemic oppression.

This is because the current system– capitalism– is based on oppressing the people.  It’s a system of colonial rule.  The few control the many for the benefit of the few.  The few own most of the property, so it’s in their benefit to have an organized force– whether it’s the military or the police or the immigration agents– which will keep the majority of the people from becoming a threat to their advantage in this arrangement of power.

In fact, to say the police are “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong” is an incorrect analysis.  The police are simply doing their job, which is to protect the property of those in the wealthy ruling class from the people who are oppressed for the benefit of the wealthy.

Of course, one can (and, it may be argued, should) attach a moral judgment to this oppressive arrangement of wealth and power, and make the subjective choice (as all choices are) whether the people ought to be exploited by this system, or not.  And if your judgment of conditions under the current system of power is that the instability and imbalance which arise out of the few having the most at the expense of the many is bad or wrong, then, in order to remain consistent in your analysis and ideals, you would be obligated to organize against the rule of capitalism.  That is, your scientific and moral response to capitalist oppression would be to move in a revolutionary and socialist manner.

Most white “Americans” don’t organize to move against this system of oppression because the system is based not only on class but race.  The majority of the oppressed populations in the world are Africans, Indigenous peoples, Asians, Arabs– communities who are exploited by the capitalist system for political, economic and social advantages enjoyed primarily by white people (Europeans).  And, while most of the material benefits of European imperialist capitalism stay at the top, in its ruling class, the entire basis for the lives and well-being of white people is the oppression of Africa and the rest of humanity.

Therefore, whites do not organize to move against the current system because we are benefiting from it, even as this imbalance of wealth and power, necessitated by capitalist rule, oppresses us too.  Instead of fighting systemic oppression, Europeans embrace the social benefits of “whiteness”– one of which is extra protection from police violence.  This protection from the actual physical violence committed by the police (and the military) heightens the subjective attachment of white people to the ideological thrust of imperialism, otherwise known as patriotism.

And the capitalist system further exploits these subjective patriotic feelings of white people in order to perpetuate its colonial rule.  So what we might call white power continues to expand and expand, and, consequently, so does the oppression of Black and brown people, both within the borders of the U.S. settler colony and all around the planet.  This expansion of white power creates a revolutionary force coming from below, which, in turn creates a reaction by the system of white power calling for greater oppression and more violence against this upward movement by oppressed peoples.

As systemic violence grows and grows (for it must under capitalism), this reactionary expansion of oppressive power creates an even greater mental and emotional investment by whites in the political protection of “whiteness,” becoming a shield from those below as well as a shield from the growing force above (which threatens to crush us too).  And so the imperialist crisis grows, as police brutality, military aggression, and colonial oppression expand– along with the patriotic fervor of white people.

During this crisis, the oppressed and the oppressor may both look to the legal structure of the dominant system for guidance so that they can make reforms which will preserve the system’s rule; namely, by reducing the instability and volatility in these material conditions.

In the United States, reformers looking now to the U.S. Constitution as the basis for reform.  At the next level under this “founding document,” reformers examine federal laws, and then state and local laws, looking for any potential legislative changes which will remove some of the weight of colonial and capitalist oppression.

During this imperialist crisis, reformers also idealistically hope that revisions to police procedures in local departments across the United States, such as the use of body cameras, will alleviate some of the pressure from below (as well as from above).  Reformers seek to educate the colonized and oppressed people of “America” about their “constitutional rights,” idealistically hoping that more knowledge about a system built on oppression will somehow make this oppression less.

Yet the U.S. Constitution is itself the legal foundation of this entire system of colonial oppression against Africans and Indigenous peoples.  Just as the police are not the basis of the problem (they only enforce it), and the problem is the system, the Constitution– the judicial foundation for capitalist rule– is the problem.  And here’s why:

The problem with the U.S. Constitution is not so much what it says but what it doesn’t say.  At the time the Constitution was written– by white cisgender men who were property owners– the arrangement of colonial rule was already in place.  The bourgeois revolution by the colonies did not overturn this system of power, but instead consolidated the power of the ruling class which had broken away from England’s monarchical system.  The “American Revolution” was not a revolution by enslaved Africans and invaded Indigenous peoples, or even by poor whites (noting that the enslavement and ongoing colonization of Africans is an invasion, an act of war).

You might recall how Shays’ Rebellion was rapidly put down by the ruling class of the new nation-state, the United States.  George Washington, the nation’s first millionaire and first president, wrote of Shays’ Rebellion:

“If government shrinks, or is unable to enforce its laws; fresh maneuvers will be displayed by the insurgents – anarchy & confusion must prevail – and every thing will be turned topsy turvey in that State; where it is not probable the mischiefs will terminate.”

It’s true that the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia which followed Shays’ Rebellion was very contentious.  However, this contentiousness among property-owning white cisgender men was on account of their conflicting interests regarding the division of material benefits (that is, loot) among themselves, benefits which were the result of their enslavement of Africans and their genocide against Indigenous peoples.  The actual proletariat or working class of the new nation, which would build it into an empire, was not represented at the Constitutional Convention.  The material interests of African people, who have created the great wealth of this (never great) nation, were not represented in the very construction of the nation’s legal foundation: its Constitution.

Without the political representation, or the control, of the proletariat, who were the actual workers in this new nation, and who (of course) worked for no wages under the constant threat of extreme violence, the drafters of the Constitution were allowed to omit from the language of this legal foundation the rights of people who could not represent themselves.

Rich white cisgender men already had access to food, shelter, education, jobs, and medicine, so their debate took for granted these material benefits of a racist society which gains these benefits from it violence against Africans.  So the debate, and the Constitution, became about everything else.  The U.S. Constitution framed the legal guarantees of rights and powers of white people based on the assumption that material necessities such as food, shelter, education, jobs, and healthcare (medicine) would be filled– by African labor and Indigenous land.

Therefore, when we talk about the “legal” or “Constitutional” basis of our “rights,” and how the police either enforce these rights or violate them, we leave out the rights to the most basic needs of society: food, shelter, education, and healthcare.  Food, shelter, education, and healthcare are necessary for life, but the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee our rights to gain access to them.  Why?  Because the U.S. Constitution assumes that the white ruling class will be provided these necessities through violence against colonized Africans and Indigenous peoples, who were given no legal protections in the original constitution.  And later amendments to the Constitution only guaranteed those rights which were based on the assumptions of the “Founding Fathers” that food, shelter, education, jobs and healthcare would be provided for.

Law enforcement in the U.S. is– by definition– a political solution, based on force or violence, to the issues of food, shelter, education and healthcare.  That is, the lack of access to these material necessities by colonized peoples, particularly Africans within the U.S. settler colony, is solved by the constant threat and use of violence by police departments.

Whenever we look to the U.S. Constitution for answers about what our rights are, and what the police can or cannot do, we are assuming that a legal document which does not guarantee the human right to have food, shelter, education, and healthcare can still be considered a legitimate or just foundation for our society.

My argument– as a socialist revolutionary– is that the rights we should be demanding the government’s constitution of a decolonized territory to guarantee are the rights to necessities which sustain people’s lives.  The police– if they are a necessary institution at all– should exist only to enforce our rights to food, shelter, education and healthcare.  Instead, the police use violence to oppress colonized people who lack equal access to these material necessities.

If our human rights to food, shelter, education and healthcare were guaranteed by the Constitution, and drugs were legalized, the police wouldn’t have anything to do.  The police wouldn’t exist because oppressive conditions wouldn’t exist under this system of guaranteed human rights, which is socialism.

I hope that the oppressed people of the world will bring about– for themselves– such a system free from oppression, forcing white colonizers to build a similar system.  However, it’s not realistic, right now, to believe that the U.S. will guarantee these rights to everyone.  And those who are the most oppressed by the lack of government enforcement of these rights are colonized African people, Indigenous peoples, and “people of color” (the global majority).

Therefore, it is clear to me that the correct analysis of material conditions today leads us to recognize that Africans should have control over their own lives and resources, free from colonial rule: Black Power.  Africans trapped in the U.S. settler colony should have control of their own police, and– more importantly– have power over their own rights to food, shelter, education, and healthcare and all the productions of their labor.

The U.S. Constitution only assumes that people living on this continent will have access to the basic necessities of life, because the legal framework of this document was placed (like a grid) over preexisting structures of material wealth.  Whites already had access to the basic necessities of life, at the expense of Africans and Indigenous peoples, so the U.S. Constitution only provided the frame, the legal structure, for the wealthy ruling class to place on top of these previously shaped conditions, and the populations within them, locking everything in place as part of a rigid or static racial caste system.

Only through socialist revolution, led by Africans everywhere in the world, and all oppressed communities, can humanity break free from a system of imperialist control and, instead, create a system of power which guarantees their human rights to the basic necessities of life– benefits which the white population already assumed we had before the U.S. Constitution was ever written.

 

Law Enforcement and The Rich White Man’s Constitution

President Ronald Rump

[note: written in November 2015 before i became a Muslim.]

On his first day as the leader of the Freeloading World, President Ronald Rump entered the Anti-Ovulating Office (rechristened as such by Fake Ass Christians Against Women’s Control Of Their Own Ovaries, or, the GOP).  Later on that day, the rest of his combed-over hair arrived, and– like the Greeks from a Trojan Horse’s butt– out of the hair jumped the President’s gang of advisors.  After asking Rupert Murdoch his permission to sit behind the President’s desk, the President sat down and gave his best manly glare at a world full of so many threats.

“OK, you assholes!” yelled President Rump.

“Um, are you talking to us or all the enemies of American decency … sir?” asked one of his advisors, a timid ex-Marine used to taking orders.

“I’m not talking to any of you assholes– I’m talking to these CEOs from Boeing, Walmart and Amazon.  What’s the first thing on my ‘To Dominate’ list? … Assholes!”

Three white guys popped up from behind a potted plant.

“Give us tax cuts!”

“More war!”

“More tax cuts!”

“Just give us the money!” they all said.

“Alright, alright,” Ronald Rump replied, staring down his pals, as they glared back– a little game they played to keep from turning gay.  “Numero uno on the list, done.  What’s next?”

“Well, that’s about it– same as the last guy.  You know the routine,” one of the CEOs said, glaring at the potted plant, which looked to him as if it had some terrorist plot in mind.

More glares were exchanged during an awkward pregnant pause, as all pauses should be, like women.

“OK, then,” said President Rump, “Then I guess I can get down to some of the fun stuff of being Commander In Chief.  Any Black activists we can spy on?  Any countries with funny-sounding names we can bomb?”

“That’s already happening, sir,” an advisor advised, agreeably deferential without sounding gay (for he had practiced his straight voice with his partner Mike that morning).  “But we always could bomb another country, if you want– as long as it’s not in Europe.”

“Well, maybe later.  Didn’t I promise something about deporting some Mexicans?  I might as well keep one promise to the ‘good, decent, hard-working American people’!” President Rump joked, laughing through pursed lips from red bloated cheeks.  It was not an attractive look.  The advisors laughed anyway– they were getting paid, so “What the fuck, why not?” each of them thought.

“Actually,” President Rump continued, “Deportation is too good for these mothers.  Literally, mothers.  And babies.  Let’s do something even worse.  It’s time to step up that tough love and all-American know-how, that … whatever … which built this … whatever.  So let’s send a strong message that the good’ ol’ USA is back baby, back like a mother– a motherfucker, that is– morning in America, you bastards!”

The congregation broke out in a slightly off key performance of The National Anthem.   Mike’s boyfriend killed it– show tunes being his thing.  But after hitting the last long note he made sure to spit in the potted plant just to keep it from going too gay.

”  … and the ho-ome of theeeeeee brave.”

“OK, good job men,” Ronald Rump said, “I mean, assholes.  Now where were we?  Oh yeah, about to send a message in American know-how, part of that can-do spirit, that … whatever.  Say, Bob, hire a couple new speechwriters for me.  In fact, hire some speechgivers.  This talking wears me out.   Let these asshole Americans listen to someone else while I chase some tail.  Say, Bob, bring me some tail.  But anyway … where were we?”

“Mexico.”

“Oh yeah, Mexico.  Sending a message of American can-do, hee-haw, booyah, and blah blah to these Mexican mothers who refuse to learn English and … say, Bob, can you finish this sentence for me, I’m tired of talking.”

“Sure thing Mr. President.”

“No, get lost.  Asshole,” Ronald Rump said, revived by an image of himself he caught in the reflection on the glass of Churchill’s portrait (UK, US– what’s the diff?).  “OK, what to do with these lazy Mexicans.  We just need to put them in their place, like we did the Mau Mau.  Let’s cook up something really patriotic, really British, really step up our game.”  Rump was getting in a groove, revved up in full presidential mode.

“OK, so all those brown people intruding on American land, we need to fix this problem.  And I know how to fix this problem.  Because I’m a problem-fixer.  I’ve got the know-how.  I’m a man.  I’m a …”

“Mr. President, get to the point.”

“Right.  OK, brown– bad.  White– good.  Black– worst.  Got that straight?”

“We’re taking notes, sir.”

“No no, no notes– strictly off the record.  Let’s do it like the first 44 mothers, even that last asshole.  National security, you know.”

Much laughter.

“Alright, so getting down to brass tacks and– whatever the fuck that means– let’s focus.  Fo-cus!  Let’s send a message to these anti-American mothers that they’ll never forget.  Something better, more American, more white than anything the motherfuckin’ forefathers ever dreamed up– something really deadly.  Let’s round them up and cut off their hands.”

“Sounds good sir,” said Mike’s beau, “But Columbus already thought of that and did it.  Any ideas to get us out of the 15th century?”

“You got a problem with the 15th century?  Get out!”

“Don’t you mean ‘you’re fired’?” an NBC exec piped up, as he popped out from behind a plotting plant.

“No, Mike’s beau can stay.  Good work.  Just keep the gay shit to a minimum.  Not comfortable with that.  But getting back to the task at hand … whew, this presidency shit is hard work.  When is my first four week vacation?  Never mind that, Bob.  We’ve got to deal with these lazy illegal aliens.”

Some inhabitants of the planet Quog appeared from behind the plotting plant.  “Us, sir?”

“No, Quog dudes, you’re cool– you’ve got that Anglo-Saxon glow to your asses, and Whole Foods might be able to use your invasion techniques.  A few Black neighborhoods in Deportland, Orygun still need to be gentrified.”

“Done, and done,” squeaked Quogling 3, picking up on the lingo of the day and of the solar system.

President Ronald Rump continued:

“Let’s force a European language on these brown-assed people– maybe Spanish.”

Blank stares.  Triple-eyed blank stares from Quogling 3 & Co. (already catching on to American tribal rituals of IPOs and shit).

“No?  OK, let’s force Christianity on them.”

“Sir, you really need to catch up.”

“OK, Mike’s beau, way to show some ‘tough love.’  I’m into that tough love.  Tough, sweaty, man on man … Where were we?  Oh yeah, so cutting off hands, forcing them to speak Espagnol, and making them pray to white Jesus apparently are off the table.  So, table-wise, and torture-wise– what else you got?”  Ronald Rump was really New Yorking the fuck out of these phrases.

“How about SuperNAFTA?” Walmart’s CEO said.

“You’re still here?” President Rump barked. “Here’s two billion dollars– now get the fuck outta here!  All you CEOs– git!”

“Just remember who you work for, Rump!” the CEOs said, leaving the Anti-Ovulating Office, smiling through their glares at their billion dollar checks.

“OK– this is fun,” Ronald Rump continued, straightening his tie made by tired hands of Chinese children.  “So the 15th century is out.  Any other centuries?  Maybe spread some small pox to wipe out these mothers?  We must have some other European diseases?”

“We could start another ebola scare.”

“Nah, that’s for Africans.  You know, bottom of the totem pole.  Remember your American history, people!  Pecking order.  Food chain– all that jazz.”

“Right.”

“We could go Hiroshima or Nagasaki on them.  Maybe drop a little Black Wall Street or MOVE Organization on their asses.  Where’s that red button I was hoping to play with?”

“You need the key from the NSA, CIA and Rupert Murdoch first, sir.”

“Alright.  Get me the key– and a pumpkin latte.  Make sure the cup says ‘Merry Christmas’ on it– don’t want to piss off O’Reilly.”

Four advisors rushed out.

“Oh Bob!” the Prez shouted to one of the advisors, who rushed back.  “And don’t leave any tips for those Starbucks baristas– the lazy fucks make too much already.  Greedy bastards.  Can’t even get people’s names right.  Wrote ‘Ted Cruz’ on my cup one time and ‘Ben Carson’ another time.  So got that?  Alright?  Good.”

Rump gave the room a good staring down, real NBC prime time stuff, very Presidential, and continued:

“OK, people.  Con-cen-trate!  We’ve got to be original.  Let’s not be too white after all!  We need to find a way to get rid of these illegal aliens– no, not you Quog dudes.  Ideas, we need ideas.”

“Say, boss,” said one advisor, who for some reason sounded like a mug in an old Edward G. Robinson gangster picture, very Allen Jenkins [google it].  “How ’bout we sterilize ’em– kill ’em off slow-like, ya know, like voimin?”

“Voimin?  What the fuck is ‘voimin’?”  Rump snorted.  “Oh, vermin.  No, Herman, that won’t do.  It has been done.  Original.  Orr-idg-inn-all.”  Hyphenated syllables were the surest indication of cisnormative macho leadership, next to saluting the uniformed servicemen as you step off Forced Air One.

Rump suddenly had an idea.

“OK, people, get this: we put these brown people in uniforms, you know, like the Mets wear on Mondays.  I hate the Mets– go Yankees.  But never mind that– put them in camo, teach them to love America and all that shit, and have them go attack one of the countries their kinfolks are from.”

“Sorry, sir, that’s been done,” Ahmed, the ex-Marine, said.

“Ah, shit.  Isn’t there any form of torture or brutality we can inflict on these uncivilized rapists and … brutal torturers … that America hasn’t inflicted before?”

“OK, boss, get this,” the Allen Jenkins-wannabe said as he jumped up, fedora tilted back on head.  “Let’s dump a whole bunch of drugs and guns into their neighborhoods, remove all the jobs and grocery stores– got it?– put in some patriotic teachers who will teach their children to hate themselves, build a whole bunch of prisons for the ones who act up, and then just watch the whole thing blow up while we sit back and rake in the dollahs?”

“Hmm … sounds familiar, Al (I mean, Herm).”  President Rump rubbed his chin (his own chin), practically stroked it, lovingly, his ego purring.  “Nah, gosh darn it– it’s been taken.”

Another advisor chimed in (as President Rump made love to his own exquisitely formed chin, so he deemed, with his soft, unchapped hands, so free from grubby work): “Mr. President, it seems to me … Mr. President, please, listen … this nation is a well-oiled machine that is operating just fine without your needing to do too much.  Should I get your golf clubs?”

Ronald Rump slumped in his chair, dejected, and gave a big sigh.

“Well, gentlemen, all we can do now is wait and pray.  Wait– that’s not the line.  Well, gentlemen, I was hoping to bring some real American law and order to this country, but it seems all those anti-Black, anti-brown, and pro-lily white ass gentrifying, colonizing, imperialist as shit policies have existed all along.   Being President is no fun– I should just go back to being a multi-billionaire, that way I can give the orders to the President.”

He picked up the Presidential Phone and dialed.  Ring …  Ring.

Ring …

“Hello?”  A woman’s voice was on the other end.

“Hey, Hillary, you still want the job?”

“Sure!”

“And sorry about calling you a cold bitch in the debates.”

“Water under the bridge, Ronald.  So what have you done so far that I need to undo?”

“Well, the name ‘Anti-Ovulating Office’ probably has to go.  We’re just thinking about bombing some countries, roughing up some Black and brown kids in some schools, encouraging some more gentrification in Deportland, and other shit like that.  You know, the usual.”

“OK.  Well, I’ll need to change the language for what we’re doing (soften it a bit, make it sound more humane), and probably change the chair you’re sitting in, because– quite frankly– Ronald, you give me the creeps.  Seriously, you make my skin crawl.”

“I hear ya, Hill.  I tend to do that to women, until they take a look at my bankroll.  Anyway, the CEOs got their money, so you probably don’t need to start until next week.  I’m not sure anyone will notice if the President is missing.  Things seem to run pretty well on their own around here!’

They both have a good laugh.

President Ronald Rump

One House, Four Walls? – Justice, Freedom, Equality, Peace

Circles

Justice, freedom, equality and peace are all connected.  Without one, there can be none of the others.  In fact, the argument here is that justice, freedom, equality and peace are synonymous: they are the same thing.  But first we can think of these four separate concepts as the four walls which hold up the house, and this house is: our home?  Humanity?   More on that later.  For now, let’s consider the meaning of these words and how they are symbolized by the four walls of the one house:

In order to understand this metaphor, or– rather– understand the reality that it represents, we must occasionally break away from it and not adhere too closely to its image, adjusting our focus on the object by approaching it from different angles, and using the variety of language which is available to us.  Reality is fluid, flexible, so it is only demonstrable when we (who are part of reality) display fluidity and flexibility as well.  The universe is full of so many things to observe, and so many ways of observing; if we are to understand fully the universe, we should use as many of these things, and observe them in as many ways, as possible.

So if we consider the meaning of justice, we can use the familiar image of the scales.  Justice is equilibrium: the same weight on each side of the scales.  We can immediately relate this image to equality.  Without justice, there is no equality, because the scales tip too much in one direction or the other.  Only by an equitable distribution of weight on each scale do we achieve justice.

How does this image of justice relate to freedom?  What is the meaning of freedom?  In order to be free, one must be free from something.  Freedom requires the dialectical relationship with non-freedom: slavery, servitude, imprisonment.

Perhaps a more helpful way of looking at freedom is to think in terms of oppression.  There are two objects– or two parts of the same object (the dialectic).  That is, we are thinking in materialist terms.  So non-freedom is when one is oppressed.  Freedom is not when the material source of oppression is eliminated, or when the object below– struggling against the object above– switches places, gets on top, and oppresses the oppressor.  This may be the proper understanding of the dialectic, but freedom (it seems to me) is when both parts within this relationship are in equilibrium: equal weight upon each other.  And this image of the weights takes us back to the scales, which “rest” at a state of equilibrium when both scales contain the same weight: freedom from non-equilibrium.  This image has already been connected to the concept of equality.  Switching (or mixing) metaphors, we now have three walls.

If we think about these things in dialectical materialist terms, we learn that justice, freedom and equality do not mean the destruction of people who have prevented justice, freedom, and equality.  Perhaps those who stand in the way of this material transformation must be destroyed, for they create (or exploit) the force in the opposing direction of the revolutionary force.  Yet it is their reactionary force, not the people themselves, that is the enemy of justice, freedom and equality.  And this force, which is always systemic, is also always based on their material conditions.  If we transform the material conditions which create injustice, oppression and inequality, we bring the opposing force into a state of balance or alignment.  This process of transformation is brought about by revolutionary change, or one system replacing another system.  The reactionary system (reactionary to the forces for justice, freedom, equality, and peace) is based on imbalanced material conditions.  These conditions are out of alignment and are unstable, and it is their volatility which creates the need for systemic oppression– and violence.

Therefore, peace is simply an alignment, a stability and a balance (all the same thing) established in material conditions through revolution: the once volatile systemic phenomena have been brought to a state of equal force upon each other when there is peace.  Matter still moves– it does not, in fact, rest, but rather the force of each opposing matter is equal (and therefore stable) and it is this equality or stability that creates peace.

There can be no peace if the stability within material conditions has been established through oppression (that is, by a downward force of systemic control), for the direction of this weight will only create an upward force pushing against this power and struggling to break free from it.  While there is a state of inequality within this relationship of downward and upward forces, it is an unstable or volatile state, which leads to violence: no peace.

A state of peace, and justice, occurs only when the inequitable weight of the opposing force is brought into alignment, and this requires a shift in the material advantage from one side to the other: from the oppressor to the oppressed.

When we become conscious of the physical, measurable phenomena of the world and the relationships between these phenomena, we observe (through our senses and our rational, critical faculty) that justice, freedom, equality and peace are based on material conditions.  Since all matter is connected, we then see the connections between justice, freedom, equality and peace and (while each is a distinct concept) we see that, in terms of systems of power, these concepts are all part of the the same thing.  They are all matter.  All matter is connected.  And when matter is out of alignment, and becomes unstable, it is in this state of volatile imbalance that injustice, oppression, inequality and violence dominate humanity.

Peace is very much connected to justice.  If we look at these concepts in yet another way, using another image, we can see that peace and justice are a kind of payment.  If someone steals your wallet, and tells you to remain calm but does not return your money, they are not encouraging peace– for a state of injustice still exists while they still have your wallet and your money.  This is why we speak of “paying for a crime.”  Justice is a kind of payment.  If one has not been paid for a wrong– or the withholding of a payment itself is wrong– then agitation is a natural, inevitable response to this injustice.

Peace can only come about through restitution.  We think again of the scales of justice, moving up and down in a state of agitation, until the exact amount of gold is placed on the scale with less gold, bringing the two scales into alignment.  Once there has been restitution– or reparations— then there can be peace: equilibrium, balance, everything on one level, in complete alignment.

Socialism is the system that brings about this state of alignment among material conditions.  The current system–capitalism– requires the few, who have the most, to control or oppress the many, who have far less, and who labor to add to the material advantage of the few.  There can be no justice under the system of capitalism, because the many never willingly (or consciously) submit to the force of the few in order to make the latter even wealthier than they are already: the former must be oppressed in order for them to passively (not peacefully) accept such an unjust, inequitable social arrangement.  The masses become justifiably agitated by the volatility of imbalanced material conditions, and their collective effort to destroy the system (and those who defend it) is an inevitable, natural act within the evolutionary process.  War becomes necessary in order for there to be peace.

But let’s go back to the metaphor of the walls and the house.  What we have found is that there are not four walls to this house, but rather one wall.  One continuous wall: a circle.  And this causes us to think of Marimba Ani’s discussion of how Africans might build their buildings, and how the shape of these buildings might reflect African thinking and African culture.  Marimba Ani has asked, “Suppose when we come together, we form circles: would that make a difference?”  We think also of the circular house in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.  So we can begin to think about how these walls of the house (and the house itself) are organically and spiritually connected to each other and are unified within the universe: one.

What we find is that justice, freedom, equality and peace connects us: we are part of these things, and these things are part of us.  In order to be human, we must have justice, freedom, equality and peace.  In order for humanity to be in alignment with each other and the universe, we must have a system that ends injustice, oppression, inequality and war.  The foundation and the materials for the house, and for us, can be found through socialism.  Everything in the universe is based on matter: people, things, and ideas.  But within matter is spirit, and within humanity is spirit: so the house, when its material and humanity’s material are unified, becomes a home.  Only people living in it, happily, make a house a home.

Through revolution humanity can restore the material alignment that will become our collective home.  There are four connected parts of this one structure, which are justice, freedom, equality and peace.  Without one, none of the other three can exist.  The structure crumbles.  The house falls down.  Only humanity can create our home, and we can only build this home by lifting up the materials which have been crushed by capitalist oppression.  There can be no peace, no equality, and no end to oppression (no freedom), without connecting these to the struggle for justice, which takes the form of payment to those whose peace, equality and freedom have been stolen from them by a system designed for this very purpose: European imperialist capitalism.

One House, Four Walls? – Justice, Freedom, Equality, Peace