Sunday, July 10, 2016

Revolution or reform?

Aislinn Pulley, a lead organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago, believes that The System That Killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Cannot Be Reformed: "What sense would it make to ask for a kinder slave patroller when the problem is slavery itself?" Pulley asks. "The same is true of US policing now."

Pulley argues (and I concur) that violence against black people and violence against poor people is inherent to capitalism. Capitalism produces not just inequality but poverty, and its production of poverty is not because capitalists happen to be evil, but because of the structural imperatives of capitalist economic and social relations. Capitalism rewards the accumulation and concentration of wealth without limit; those who concentrate the most wealth survive and prosper. But wealth concentrated in one place entails that it must be lacking elsewhere. It is no good for homo economus if everyone is wealthy; he has no power. The fundamental incentive of capitalism is for some people to have more wealth than others, and thus have power over them.

Before capitalism, most social systems were fairly upfront about how their social system worked. Under feudalism, the lord owned the land by virtue of noble birth and force of arms, and sent his soldiers to collect his share the peasants' product to feed himself, his servants, and his soldiers. Like it or not, everyone knew exactly where they stood and why.

Capitalism, on the other hand, systematically conceals and disguises its own true nature. Capitalism can survive only so long as its ideological contradictions remain hidden and its social and economic conflicts remain suppressed. The opacity of capitalism is not so much a conspiracy per se as a structural and social-evolutionary outcome: actors and actions that expose contradictions do not make money and thus wither; actors and actions that conceal contradictions do make money and thus prosper.

Capitalism thus always finds, reinforces, and magnifies any divisions within the working classes. When the workers are divided, the capitalists prosper; when they are united, the capitalists tremble. And, given the United States' history of slavery, there is no better way to divide the workers than by race.

It's not like the Bilderberg group sent out secret orders to American police forces; it's just that if some cop or or some police force shakes down black people, harasses them, and kills a few in the process, well, they don't make the capitalists tremble, and are thus tolerated. The pundits who blame black people for their own victimization don't make the capitalists tremble, and get published.

Trying to unite white and black workers makes the capitalist class tremble, and they do not pay for what they fear. Aislinn Pulley will not be published on the Op Ed page of the New York Times or Washington Post. She will not become a tenured professor. She will not sit on the board of General Electric. She will not become a partner at Dewey, Cheatem and Howe. She will not become a federal judge. At least not unless she sells out her cause and her convictions.

She might well sell out, at least sell out her socialism. Racism is a good tool, a sharp tool, but it's not the only tool. Capitalism is not fundamentally predicated on racism. We could have a capitalist system that exploited the workers but did not use the black-white division to maintain its exploitation. There are any number of alternative tools to divide the working class: immigration, drugs, skills, education, height, weight, even eye color. Why not? We can convince children in a few days that blue eyes are good and brown eyes are bad.

I stand 100 percent with Black Lives Matter. I would stand 100 percent with them even if they were not socialist: the continued police murders of black people is evil in itself, not just because it perpetuates capitalism. If Pulley and other Black Lives Matter leaders "sell out" their socialism just to end police murders, I would not utter a peep of complaint. And, if the capitalists are smart (and they're not completely stupid) that's just what they'll do: a judgeship here, a tenured faculty appointment there, a few partnerships and boards of directors, all to preserve capitalism. If the capitalists are really smart (and they have flashes of brilliance), they'll agree to a "process" and "statements" that preserve not only capitalism but the racial divide that helps perpetuate it. It worked on Obama, n'est ce pas?

But if the capitalists are stupid (and they can be just as obtuse as the next person), they'll dig in their heels and neither successfully co-opt Black Lives Matter leaders (and other leaders) nor give up the hyper-oppression and murder of black people. I don't hope this happens, but I don't have any control of whether or not it does happen. And sooner or later it will happen: the capitalists will choose to fight to the death over something, they will lose, and we will have another opportunity to liberate all of humanity.


  1. Years ago, I knew a guy who had worked for the Nader campaigns. he said he supported Nader, but that ultimately, Nader was just a reformer, not a revolutionary.

    "Reformn of our current system has brought us the bureaucratic state," he said. "People complain that the EPA, the FDA, the Justice Department don't work. I think they work exactly the way they're supposed to. They guive the little guy a sense of having a voice while not doing a darn thing to threaten the position of the big guy."

    Still, what's that old quote about capitalists selling you the rope you use to hang them? I have a lot of hope for the future.


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