“We’re All in This Together.” You Think?
Top Ten Lies in the Time of Coronavirus and Mass Protests
Demonstrators protesting racist cop murder of George Floyd face off with riot police and National Guard near the White House in Washington, shortly before curfew ordered by the Democratic D.C. mayor, June 3.
By Charles Brover
Class Struggle Education Workers
AUGUST 8 – U.S. capitalism is in the midst of a triple whammy crisis – economic, social, and public health. Inspiring massive protests against racism and cop terror not seen in their size and scope since the 1960s have set this nation’s cities aflame day after day, and have spread internationally. The historic protests are occurring against the backdrop of unconscionable government delay, deception, ignorant happy talk, and anti-scientific incompetence. Official public health malpractice has driven the confirmed death toll from COVID-19 to over 160,000 – underreported by as much as 35 percent according to researchers from the Yale School of Public Health and Virginia Commonwealth University – and inexorably climbing. Every day we wake up to check out the grim statistics of how many tens of thousands more cases there are . . . and how many more dead.
This plague is disproportionately ravaging black, Latino, and immigrant working class communities – nearly a thousand deaths every day. Hospitals bursting at the seams as refrigerator trucks line up to take the bodies. A strategy of test-trace-isolate is now out of sight as tests take up to two weeks, rendering tracing useless. Many of those infected will face long-term health complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now says the number of infected may be ten times greater than reported – which would mean 40 million. With about 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. has suffered more than a quarter of COVID-19 deaths and leads in confirmed cases of infection. Death rates per capita in Europe are one-tenth of the U.S. and falling. The rate in the U.S. is rising. So we’re number one in the world: “Hip, hip, hooray, USA, USA!”
The economy has cratered, tossing more than 50 million workers out onto the streets, many losing their meager healthcare along with their jobs. The Labor Department reported that, as of the beginning of August, over a million workers have filed initial applications for unemployment insurance every week for the last 20 weeks. Many more are being forced to work in unsafe conditions. Most frightening for the class that rules this society, the simultaneity and compression of this triple-headed crisis has led millions of people to see a common source of this social dysfunction. People are starting to tie together the connected threads in the response to the pandemic, the economic crisis, and the ongoing racist police brutality. Protesters are demanding change to a system that is ruining their lives and assaulting their dignity. But what is that system?
The social context underlying and generating the killings of black citizens became sharply visible: Ahmaud Arbrey shot down by ex-cop vigilantes, Breonna Taylor shot dead in her bed by no-knock killer cops, and then George Floyd, the murder that was heard and seen around the world. A majority of the country, including a majority of white people, now says that the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the cops is the result of deeper historic racial injustice (ABC poll, June 5). In a Siena College/New York Times poll “nearly seventy percent of whites under 45 said they believed the killing of George Floyd was part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African Americans rather than an isolated incident” (New York Times, 23 June).
While there is now wide and growing acknowledgement among the protesters that racial oppression is systemic, there are crucial differences in identifying the system. Conservatives and liberals focus on the system of “policing” and “criminal justice”; they propose some cosmetic reforms to restore “police-community relations.” Many other protesters identify the system as race-based white supremacy and focus on the horrific examples of ubiquitous racist culture. Culture is a material force in history, and the toppling of Confederate statues should be applauded as persistent symbols and license for Jim Crow terror. Corporations have responded to the pressure with cosmetic steps to clean up their racist images, but any changes to their practices are minimal at best. In any case, this represents no real challenge to capitalism.
For Marxist revolutionaries, however, the racist system that is at the root of the oppression of black people in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is class-based capitalism that generated and constantly reinforces structural racism and white-supremacist ideology, which both reflects and contributes to that structure. To fight that racist system, it will be necessary to mobilize the immense power of labor together with oppressed populations, independent of the Democratic Party, to move from protest to working-class power and black liberation through socialist revolution. As the protest movement goes forward, the debate about what system needs to be dismantled will determine its revolutionary potential. If limited to “reforms” of “policing,” it will go nowhere as capitalism requires police to enforce capitalist “law and order.”
Now the capitalist “influencers” say they will address the underlying causes of racial oppression. Revelation: they can’t do it even if they wanted to. Racism is so deeply embedded in the development of U.S. capitalism, that it shapes every economic and social structure. Housing and the ghettos created by redlining policies, health care, wealth and income inequality, segregated under-resourced education, environmental racism, mass incarceration – every marker of social stability – child poverty, life expectancy and morbidity: all of this cannot be solved under capitalism even if the “masters of the universe” in Wall Street and Washington all got together and said, let’s do it.
It’s not a matter of will; it’s the way the capitalist system works. The rulers already declared their intent to address systemic racism in the Kerner Report1 53 years ago in response to the widespread upheavals of the ’60s. The material basis of racism is baked into capitalist development as the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Its underlying structures and conditions that give rise to racism cannot be fundamentally changed under the system of production for private profit. The civil rights movement came to a dead stop when Martin Luther King took the movement North to the white enclaves of Chicago. King’s liberal challenge to racist housing patterns ran into the bulwark of capitalist property relations where it sputtered and failed.
The current multi-pronged crisis has revealed and exacerbated the class divide as never before in our lifetimes. It clearly points to the need for militant class struggle leading to a workers government and a classless socialist society. The rulers are quite conscious that capitalism is the social and economic system that undergirds racism. So in response to the current crisis, all wings of the bourgeoisie are scurrying to preserve the status quo while pretending to address systemic racism. They are serving up lies big and small to justify the failure of their system. While the cities are in paroxysms of rage, grief and plague; while millions are fighting to save their livelihoods and their lives, the capitalist rulers, their politicians, and tamed pundits promote lies, damn lies, and even more murderous lies.
The future depends upon the organization of multiracial working-class struggle. And that struggle includes recognizing and exposing the lies in this time of coronavirus and mass protest. So, in no particular order, here are our top ten:
1. “We’re all in the same boat.”
While hundreds of immigrants, jobless due to the pandemic, stood in the rain for hours to get desperately needed food (above, May2), hundreds of thousands better-off New Yorkers left the city for second homes elsewhere.
The gargantuan lie repeated most often every day is that the COVID-19 pandemic means “We’re all in this together.” What a whopper! And its corollary, “The virus doesn’t discriminate.” Walmart, for instance, pays workers starvation wages while it runs ads with cloying elevator music declaring the togetherness lie. It’s repeated in various forms by banks, insurance companies, car manufacturers and a panoply of corporations. Amazon runs its warehouses like an imitation of a dystopian surveillance state firing workers who dare to dissent against their cyber-exploitation. Yet they run gauzy ads that declare: “Together we stand against systemic racism and injustice.” You think? Amazon stands together? The corporations now say that their “first priority” is you, the American people. And here you thought it was profits.
All in the same boat? Hardly. Black, Latino, immigrant, and Native American workers are hit by the virus in numbers vastly disproportionate to their fraction of society. “Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater” (NPR Health Notes, 29 May). Immigrants and blacks are more likely to have the low-wage jobs as “essential” workers. The hottest “hot spots” are prisons, ICE concentration camps, and meatpacking plants. Middle class “knowledge workers” can work from home and practice social distancing. But try that in a poultry plant.
Workers are being forced back to the job in unsafe conditions. If they refuse, in some cases, they can lose unemployment benefits. And if they are among the 15 million undocumented immigrants and their families who live and work in the U.S., they are not eligible for unemployment benefits, or any government support, even if they are laid off, even if their children are U.S. citizens, and even though they pay billions in social security and Medicare taxes and their employers pay unemployment taxes.
Some workers are forced to sign a waiver holding the bosses harmless if they contract COVID-19. The bosses’ profits depend on getting workers back despite health risks. When bosses demand to “open the economy,” they mean workers should take the risks in poorly ventilated spaces without adequate protective equipment. The corporate owners of the toxic meatpacking plants run no risk while they demand that inadequately protected workers bathe in viral Petrie dishes. Danger for workers has always been business as usual for capitalism, from the mines and mills of early industrialization to the black lung conditions miners fought against in the 1960s and COVID-19-infested slaughterhouses today.
It is always the same. Workers have no choice: it’s work or starve. The power of labor must be mobilized so that workers can take control of workplace health and safety conditions. It is a matter of life and death.
At the height of the spread of infection in New York City, when it was the epicenter of the pandemic, more than 500,000 moved out of town to second homes in the Hamptons and expensive rentals. Hospitalizations and deaths in the city map exactly to the zip codes of the poorest neighborhoods with the most cramped housing. Per capita, the Bronx has twice the number of COVID-19 cases as Manhattan and many more deaths. Not an equal opportunity destroyer, the coronavirus finds twice as many blacks and Latinos in the Bronx with more poverty, crumbling public housing, poor access to clinical care and, of course, more frontline “essential” workers (Business Insider, 20 May). It is all very transparent, but the togetherness lies keep coming.
While the pandemic has caused a ruinous economy for workers, investors in the stock market enjoyed the greatest 50-day run up in history. So as “Main Street” suffers, Wall Street pops champagne corks and celebrates. When the disastrous results of the pandemic on the real economy were clear in March after the initial plunge of the Dow Industrials, S&P and Nasdaq market indexes, the Federal Reserve assured investors that it would prop up their casino market. It flooded four trillion dollars of liquidity into the market. The Fed keeps buying up securities and corporate debt to keep the market at full throttle. With negative interest rates, the money flowed into the stock market. Forbes says the market is already in the “summer 2021.” Rich investors have made so much money that they don’t know what to do with it.
It has been commonly observed that while all of us may be in the same viral storm, we are definitely in different boats. Some folks are doing just fine in luxury yachts (quite literally in the case of the billionaires who leased super yachts for months for as much as $600,000 a week), while most of us are baling water in leaky dinghies.
2. “The police and cop culture can be reformed.”
NYPD cops confront demonstrators defying racist curfew on June 4. Hundreds were arrested as police brutally beat protesters denouncing police brutality.
Not on your life. One of the striking features of the current social upheavals is that so many of the militant young protestors say, “We keep marching, they keep killing us . . . nothing changes.” Not consent decrees, federal “pattern and practice” investigations, implicit bias training, body cameras, diversity hiring, civilian review boards, community policing, black police chiefs and mayors, video evidence, “best practices” training, listening sessions, new guidelines about “use of force,” empty talk of abolishing “qualified immunity,” legislation and “defunding the police,” even millions in the street protesting and rare cop arrest – none of it stops the generalized racist police terror that goes on unabated. Even amid mass quarantine, the number of cop killings during February-May in 2020 is equal to the same period in 2019.
People gathered to protest police brutality are brutalized by the police. While marchers in the streets protested the murder of George Floyd, Atlanta cops murdered Rashard Brooks – shot him in the back after rousting him from his car for the “crime” of dozing off while waiting at a Wendy’s drive-thru. The current protest movement demands that the country acknowledge that the murder of George Lloyd, Rashard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and so many others was not aberrant, that it was part of the ongoing racist history and practice of this country. So mainstream organizations are busy figuring out how to subscribe to that proposition without disrupting the status quo too much.
Typical of this perspective is the statement of the ACLU (Letter to members, June 5) that correctly acknowledges that the murder of George Floyd “is deeply rooted in the racism that has existed in our police and criminal legal systems since their origins centuries ago.” Okay. What’s to be done about it? They admit that “despite decades of tireless work … to address police violence … it has not worked.” Okay, so what’s to be done about it? They admit that “despite decades of tireless work … to address police violence … it has not worked.” And now? They proclaim that, “working with groups like the Movement for Black Lives,” they will “call for the reimagining of racist law enforcement.”
The “reimagining of law enforcement?” What is that? Liberals and reformists cannot imagine a police force that is not a pillar of capitalist society, so no amount of “reimagining” will work to stop cop violence. The demand to “defund the police,” for instance, will lead to a lot of talk and some tinkering around the edges of the racist system – hiring some mental health and social workers, partially barring some lethal chokeholds (only when cops say they are not in danger). But such tweaking cannot lead to fundamental change. Joe Biden has called for a $300 million increase in police funding and Bernie Sanders has also supported more police funding. The cycle of police brutality – mass outrage, commissions/reports, phony “reform,” and back to the racist status quo – is repeated decade after decade, generation after generation.
The most thoughtful and historically knowledgeable of the protesters know this all too well. Writing in the New York Times (12 June), Mariame Kaba declares simply, “Enough. We can’t reform the police.” She notes “efforts to solve police violence through liberal reforms have failed for nearly a century”:
“There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo.”
Her conclusion: “So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job.” How true, but even though these words are printed in the “paper of record,” nothing has changed.
The police cannot be reformed because its institutional and structural function is designed for violence to repress and control oppressed populations while protecting capitalist property and interests. It is not about good and bad cops. Of course, there are plenty of sadistic and personally racist cops like Derek Chauvin. But that misses the fundamental issue. The liberal call for police reform is based on the debilitating illusion that the problem of police racism is one of individual attitudes rather than the institutional role of the police in capitalist society. As we wrote four years ago, the idea of police reform is “a convenient fable that shifts the political focus away from the role of the police as an armed institution of the capitalist state apparatus to a consideration of individual attitudes” (“Bad Apples, Broken Windows, and Other Myths About the Police” (February 2016), reprinted in The Internationalist No. 50, May-July 2020).
Internationalist contingent in Juneteenth (June 19) march in Brooklyn. While liberals and reformists call to “defund the NYPD,” Marxists insist the police can’t be reformed, only revolution can bring justice.
The call to reform the police by liberals and the reformist left is based on loyalty to the capitalist state, serving to drive protest movements into the dead end of trying to reform the unreformable and into Democratic Party electoral politics. The most conscious protesters in the streets today know that the cop who this afternoon takes a knee will put that knee on your neck tonight and hit you with tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and flash-bang concussive grenades. Cops will ram your protest with their military vehicles, beat you bloody for the made up “crime” of breaking curfew, and next week they will help to herd scabs to break your strike. Because that is their job. Police are the everyday weapons of capitalist state coercion.
Many police officers are recruited from the working class and oppressed communities they are tasked to control. Cop culture is inculcated through informal initiation rites and unstated rules, which aim at breaking them from their past social allegiances, so they join the “blue” community of oppression and occupation. They are molded as a group into a collective armed force that treats the ghettos and barrios as occupied territory and its residents as enemy combatants. This culture is intractable because it corresponds to the function of police as agents of capitalist law and racist order. Cops protect and serve the bourgeois ruling class, and their “blue wall of silence” is based on the expectation of legal immunity.
Their necessary role in defending the interests of capitalism gives cops outsized political leverage, wielded through powerful police agencies which are not workers unions. Cops are the enemies of workers and their unions. It is a linguistic trick to refer to police “unions.” The lie that cops are “workers in uniform” is particularly dangerous coming from the labor bureaucracy and the reformist left. The presence of cops and prison and security guards in labor organizations not only weakens workers’ struggle, it is a betrayal of the working class and the oppressed. Cops out of the unions!
The police cannot be reformed, “defunded,” “reimagined” or “abolished” under capitalism. The only road forward in the struggle against systemic racism is the struggle to overthrow capitalism through multiracial workers revolution. The racism of the police is part of the U.S. capitalist system that has rendered its black population as a race-color caste forcibly segregated at the bottom of U.S. society and compacted in ghettos. As contingents of the Internationalist Group, Revolutionary Internationalist Youth, Class Struggle Education Workers and Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas have chanted in the recent protests: “Only revolution can bring justice.”
3. “We support the aims of the protests, but we do not condone violence.”
Hundreds of protesters in Minneapolis cheered as Third Precinct, where killer cops who murdered George Floyd were based, went up in flames on May 28.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes, 1951
Yeah, sometimes it explodes. Let’s stipulate at the outset that the United States is one of the most destructive perpetrators of violence in human history. Founded on slavery and genocidal slaughter of native peoples, steeped in lynching and KKK race terror, given to imperialist wars, deliverers of nuclear holocaust, organizers of death squads and drone-strike assassinations, the U.S. capitalist state has left millions of bodies in its violent wake. During the Jim Crow period, more than 100 police-abetted race riots by white mobs devastated striving black communities, most horribly in East St. Louis (1917) and Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood (1921). So it’s no wonder that the U.S. has designed a domestic police force of extreme violence. In the current protests the cops’ violent repression of peaceful protesters has been recorded for all to see.
These protests have had impact because they have been truly disruptive. They have blocked thoroughfares and stopped business as usual. It was a great moment when protesters burned to the ground the police station in Minneapolis where the cops were based who murdered George Floyd. While it is not the strategy of revolutionaries who seek to mobilize the working class in anti-racist action, we understand and defend all the protesters including those whose rage propelled them to attack symbols of capitalism. Of course, every massive social upheaval also includes police provocateurs seeking to provide pretext for cop attack, and in the current protests it is now proven that some right-wing white neo-fascists (including the “umbrella man” who set fire to a business in Minneapolis) have sought to aid the cops in their repressive mission.
Faced with massive disruptive protests in cities from coast to coast, every talking head and “responsible” politician condemns protesters who broke windows, grabbed some merchandise, and set a few cop cars ablaze. They say, “We love the peaceful-legal protests, it’s just those violent protesters that make us rain down gas and rubber bullets and pepper balls. That’s why we fly helicopters overhead, and mobilize military counterinsurgency forces and arrest thousands.” This narrative of legitimate versus “illegitimate” protest is meant to break the back of the protest movement.
Asserting their humanity in the face of denial has always been a driving force of the black struggle for equality. Striking Memphis sanitation workers in 1968 march under National Guard bayonets.
But who gets to define violence? For many black intellectuals and journalists the murder of George Floyd was the last straw, the one that broke the back of respectability politics. Rioting protesters? Jamelle Bouie writes (New York Times, 7 June): “Across the country, rioting police are using tear gas in quantities that threaten the health and safety of demonstrators, especially in the midst of a respiratory disease pandemic.” Bouie points out that whereas protesters get arrested, “rioting police have the imprimatur of the state.” And here is Charles Blow:
“Despair has an incredible power to initiate destruction. It is exceedingly dangerous to assume that oppression and pain can be inflicted without consequence, to believe that the victim will silently absorb the injury and the wound will fade.
“This all breeds despair, simmering below the surface, a building up in need of release, to be let out, to lash out, to explode…. It is an anger over feeling powerless, stalked and hunted, degraded and dehumanized. It is an anger that the scenes keep repeating themselves until one feels exhausted and wrung out…
“When people feel helpless, like there is nothing left to lose, like their lives already hang in the balance, a wild, swirling, undirected rage is a logical result.
“You destroy people’s prospects, they’ll destroy your property….
“We must also recognize that to have to live in a world, in a society, in which you feel that your very life is constantly under threat because of the color of your skin is also a form of violence.
“It is a daily, ambient, gnawing violence. It is the kind that makes a grown man’s shoulder draw up and his jaws clench whenever officers approach, even when there has been no offense or infraction. It is the kind that forces mothers down to pray whenever a child is out late, pleading to the gods for his or her safe return.”
–“The Destructive Power of Despair,” New York Times, 31 May
The catalyst for the massive protests and justified rage was the video of the murder of George Floyd. Without that, the cops’ S.O.P. would have been the usual: just lie their way to impunity. This was not the first video of police killing an unarmed black man. But what was it about this particular video? First, it was the repeated plea, “I can’t breathe,” echoing the dying words of Eric Garner as he was chokeholded by a New York cop in 2014. But even more than that, it was the casual cruelty of the cops that resonated against a 400-year history of dehumanization. We could see the cop with a hand in his pocket, calmly looking at the camera as he slowly squeezed the breath and life out of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes as Floyd begged for his life and called for his mother. Bystanders asked the cop to stop, but killer cop Chauvin knew the system.
The police did not recognize Floyd’s humanity. That has deep symbolic meaning for black people in the U.S. whose humanity has been denied since the boat landed in Virginia in 1619. Asserting their humanity in the face of denial has always been a driving force of the black struggle for equality. This was the meaning of the iconic signs carried by striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968: “I Am A Man.” That is the power of the call to “say their names” in the protests, reciting the names of human beings who have been treated as disposable: George Floyd, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Travon Martin, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Ahmaud Arbrey . . . On Juneteenth, Internationalist protesters carried nine signs saying “we remember” with the names of dozens – even that could only begin the list of victims of racist cop terror.
The struggle against systemic racism is key to the class struggle in the U.S., to bring down capitalism with socialist revolution that can at last liberate black people.
4. “It’s all Trump’s fault.”
Certainly, Trump is a repulsive racist enemy, and the Democrats’ whole election appeal is to argue that all we have to do is replace him with Joe Biden. After all, Trump is an ignorant, strutting wannabe strongman, and now he seems to be running a re-election campaign to become president of the Confederacy. He cowered in his White House bunker while the protests stormed. Then he mobilized active duty military troops and dispatched federal forces to assault peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square with tear gas, stun grenades and pepper balls so that he could walk over to a nearby church for a photo-op holding aloft a bible. He pledges to “dominate the streets” with his praetorian guard of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ultra-rightist border raiders and prison thugs.
Trump continues to swim in a steady stream of racism, from his “birther” campaign against Barack Obama and his vile campaign launch in 2016, labeling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, to his current defense of racist symbols and statues to “Make the Confederacy Great Again.” He and his gang of anti-scientific ditto heads have made a toxic mess of the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic at every turn, resulting in the needless loss of thousands of lives. He called the pandemic a hoax in order to talk up the stock market. In his pathological stream of consciousness, he suggested drinking household bleach and somehow injecting mega doses of sunlight to cure the virus. Trump is a transparent menace, and liberals and Democrats are having a good time blaming him for the current crisis as their poll numbers rise.
Awful as Trump is, the truth does not let the Democrats off the hook. On the pandemic, while Trump’s antics and the actions of Republican governors are directly responsible for the lack of a coherent national response, the lack of widespread testing and recent rise of infections, let’s not forget how Democratic New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic NYC mayor Bill de Blasio fatuously claimed they had the virus under control just as it was exploding. Of the 150,000 people who died of COVID-19 [as of August 1], 100,000 were in states governed by Democrats. Moreover, many of the deaths were due to policies they ordered, notably sending symptomatic patients home, where they infected family members and others, instead of to isolation centers, as China successfully did. This was done to prevent the collapse of the capitalist medical system, weakened by years of cutbacks under the Democrats.
Moreover, the U.S. suffers from deeper historical racism that hardly began with Donald Trump and will not end with Democrats in the White House. Both the partner parties of U.S. imperialism have promoted the lousy health care, racist housing patterns and radical wealth inequality that underlie and promote the racist police actions. It was under the FDR New Deal that segregated housing was set in stone (see “‘American Apartheid’ by Design,” November 2019, on the Class Struggle Education Workers web site: edworkersunite.blogspot.com). In recent years and decades nearly all of the racist police terror has taken place under Democratic mayors and governors. So, too, with the cop murder of George Floyd. Minneapolis is a Democratic city from top to bottom. Nationally, the most “progressive” Democrats have imposed curfews and called in the National Guard to violently repress the protests.
The Democrats portray Joe Biden as Mr. Empathy, an easy contrast to Donald Trump’s callous “strong man” performances. They hope Trump’s stupidity, ineptness and transparent racism will secure the election for them in November. Possibly, but a more savvy, more technically efficient and better camouflaged racism will not advance the cause of anti-racism and working-class struggle. Historically, protest movements are funneled into futile Democratic Party electoral politics. So the job of the Democrats is to whitewash Joe Biden, the Senator from Mastercard, the architect of the 1994 crime bill that accelerated mass incarceration, and the bitter opponent of “forced busing” to achieve school integration.
Electing Democrats will not change the violent racism directed against black people, and of Latinos, immigrants and other oppressed populations. Under the Obama/Biden regime killings by cops increased, as did the militarization of the police. And they were the all-time champions of mass deportations. Far from being part of the solution, the Democrats – the whole party, from Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders on the liberal “left” to the senators from Wall Street, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, CIA enabler Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the corporate establishment – are a central cause of the problem. It is primarily through loyalty to the Democratic Party that the power of labor and African Americans is shackled to their class enemies. It’s necessary to break with the Democrats – build a Revolutionary Workers Party!
5. “We now appreciate essential workers.”
Workers in meatpacking and poultry processing plants are declared “essential” but are forced to work in coronavirus-infested plants for poverty pay.
For several months, every evening at 7 p.m. in New York City and elsewhere people hung out of their windows to bang pots and pans, ring bells and applaud health workers. These noise-makers were expressing appreciation for the nurses, doctors, EMTs and other “frontline” workers who have put their lives at risk to save others. Yet thousands who work in hard-hit hospitals, including lab technicians, orderlies and housekeeping, got less recognition and had higher rates of infection. Many of the workers deemed essential were among the lowest paid: grocery clerks and the largely immigrant delivery service workers, public transportation, and home health care workers. For all the talk about heroes, much of it sincere, often these heroes were not provided with adequate personal protective equipment and denied hazard pay.
Trump declared the meatpacking and poultry workers essential to the food supply as he prematurely forced open the economy to maintain profits. These worksites became clusters of outbreaks. The life-threatening choice for these workers was stark: go to work and risk your health and the health of your family or lose unemployment benefits and risk hunger and homelessness. Jane Mayer’s recent article in the New Yorker (July 20) is titled, “Back to the Jungle,” a reference to Upton Sinclair’s harrowing 1906 muckraking novel about the capitalist cruelties of working in the stockyards of Chicago. Jack London heralded the book as “the ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ of wage slavery.”
Mayer reports on the nefarious ways the poultry-processing industry, particularly the Mountaire Corporation, has sacrificed the health and safety of its workers on the altar of superprofits. Mountaire is owned by the spectacularly wealthy anti-union right-winger, Ronald Cameron, one of Trump’s largest campaign donors. After a number of packinghouses and processing plants shut down due to hundreds of COVID-19 cases among the workers, Trump issued an executive order to force them to reopen under the Defense Production Act, while the Labor Department effectively indemnified companies from suits when they exposed workers to coronavirus.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the international corporate poultry bosses are making billions in profits while they drive down wages and speed up the production line of one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Meatpacking and poultry processing report more major injuries than coal mining and sawmilling. Many of the poultry plants were granted government waivers from existing inadequate health and safety standards. Of course, there is an inverse relationship between line speed and health and safety. With COVID-19, a union spokesperson said, “They move the birds so fast you have to be really close together to get every bird.” A program director at the National Employment Law Project, Debbie Berkowitz described it as a “shit show.... The industry is getting away with murdering people.”
Now Trump’s megadonor at Mountaire is trying to decertify the union at its Delaware plant. The union for these workers, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) represents 1.3 million mostly low-wage, often immigrant and black workers in the poultry and meatpacking plants as well as workers in grocery and other retail stores. Mountaire kept secret the injuries and death of workers in a blackout of public health information. One of the Mountaire workers explained to Mayer that even before COVID-19, they suffered respiratory complications from the harsh chemicals used in the plant. The union estimates that nearly 30,000 have been infected so far and 238 have died. For the two-thirds of poultry-processing workers not represented by a union the figures are undoubtedly much worse.
The workers know they can’t depend on OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and other federal agencies to save their lives. The UFCW and its affiliate RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union) have complained that “Poultry Industry’s Delayed Covid-19 Response Is Killing America’s Essential Workers” and called on the government to do something about it, but they have not called any strike action. Workers must create health and safety committees prepared to shut down unsafe operations (see “As the COVID-19 Pandemic Rages, Workers Fight for Health and Safety, ”The Internationalist No. 59, March-April 2020). It is crucial in this moment to organize the unorganized to beat back the union busters. What is essential is class struggle.
6. “China is the problem.”
Intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, February 6. By mobilizing the resources of its centrally planned economy, China was able to contain coronavirus epidemic.
With his usual gift for the racist turn of phrase, Trump calls it the “China virus” and “kung flu” as he casts around to place blame elsewhere for his own botched response to the pandemic. This is a lot more dangerous than Trump’s typical penchant for distraction. Blaming China is one of the few Trumpisms that has the support of his most ardent Democratic electoral opponents. As China’s economic powerhouse increasingly challenges U.S. imperialist reach in Asia, Republicans and Democrats are competing in China-bashing. Biden says Trump is soft on China because of last January’s trade deal. Then Trump releases an ad saying Biden is soft on China with photos of the Democrat clinking glasses with Chinese president Xi Jinping. Meanwhile, the U.S. has sent a flotilla of military provocation into the South China Sea.
So it is no wonder that all wings of the bourgeoisie have agreed that when it comes to the coronavirus, China is the problem. They tell a tale about how Beijing covered it up. But the truth is that immediately after China discovered a new coronavirus in the city of Wuhan, it notified the World Health Organization. Little over a week later, it identified the genetic sequence of the dangerous virus, and on January 8 it again notified the W.H.O. When new cases proved that it could be spread by humans, on January 20, Chinese authorities notified the world . . . and went into action. They quarantined Wuhan and the whole of Hubei Province and built two massive, well-equipped hospitals in ten days; they brought in thousands of medical personal, set up free, effective testing-tracing and arranged for isolation of infected individuals.
In short, China contained the pandemic while it is raging out of control in the U.S. As of mid- July China registered 251 new cases, 239 of them mild cases. Despite the early battering by the virus, China lost 4, 685 lives in 83,622 cases. Compare that with the U.S. and its more than 5 million cases, 160,000 deaths so far and tens of thousands of new cases reported every day – 75,000 cases in just one day, July 17. The W.H.O. mission report summed it up: “In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history” (see “A Tale Of Two Cities: Wuhan – New York,” in The Internationalist No. 59, April-May 2020) The comparison between the U.S. and China’s response to this public health catastrophe demonstrates the qualitative superiority of a centralized, socialized planned economy, even one deformed by Stalinist bureaucratic rule.
7. “The military is apolitical and is not used to police U.S. streets.”
Masked federal agents without name tags or insignia identifying their agency occupy the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, June 2. Many were from Department of Homeland Security (DHS), particularly I.C.E., Border Patrol and Bureau of Prisons riot squads. Use of DHS forces as right-wing terror squad was inherent in its formation, voted for by Republicans and Democrats, in the toxic atmosphere after 9/11.
According to the murderous myths of imperialism, it’s okay for U.S. military to murder and terrorize civilian populations in other countries, but not to suppress protests on the streets of American cities. The idea is that whereas the military is trained to kill the designated enemy, U.S. citizens are not supposed to be the enemy. But the peaceful protesters gathered in Lafayette Square on June 1 know better now. After federal secret police swooped down on protesters with tear gas, flailing batons and flash-bang grenades to clear the park, Trump strolled past for his bible photo op with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, in tow dressed in his combat fatigues. The next day, mysterious federal agents massed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial without identifying insignias looking for all the world like those faceless stormtroopers of dystopian fiction. (See “Trump and Democrats Stage Ominous Trial Run for Martial Law,” The Internationalist No. 60, May-July 2020).
Who were these federal troops beating up U.S. citizens trying to exercise their alleged right to assemble and protest? Many were brought in from the federal prison system along with other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents, including the Border Patrol. There was some pushback from generals against this blatant display that undermined the myth of an apolitical military. Milley was forced to apologize publicly for his performance. The Pentagon has a problem with Trump’s racist forays because 40 percent of the ranks of the military consists of African Americans and other oppressed sectors (Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders) due to the economic draft. The top brass does not want black soldiers thinking about whether they are willing to follow orders to shoot anti-racist protesters. So Trump cobbled together a domestic strike force out of federal agencies that have proven MAGA loyalties, particular prison guards and I.C.E. cops who run concentration camps for immigrants and pull children from their families.
The unleashing of secret shock troops to crush anti-racist protesters in Washington D.C. then escalated dangerously in Portland, Oregon. (See “Police State Portland: Cops and Feds Get Out!” The Internationalist, 21 July). The nightly overwhelmingly peaceful protests have been met with a secret military terror force employing tactics that resemble practice for a paramilitary death squad. Given the history of right-wing fascistic groups in Portland, there is no way to know if the unidentified armed thugs are vigilante kidnappers or Trump’s secret police on a “rendition” mission. Local officials were gobsmacked by the invasions of Trump’s jerry-built secret terror brigade. Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor screamed bloody murder about the police-state tactics. But remember that, as we have seen in the current protests, the Democratic mayors and governors are inclined to call out the National Guard at the first sound of a broken window.
Federal agent sprays anti-racist protesters from behind barrier and fence outside the U.S. district court bunker.
Local Democrats see the dispatching of federal secret police agents as mainly a political stunt in service of Trump’s reelection campaign. He wants to stoke up street confrontation, so he can run as a Nixonian law and order president. Trump thinks the deployment of national secret police makes him look tough in imitation of every dictator, tin pot and otherwise. But this is more than political theater. It is a gesture of autocracy that has been tried out against immigrants by I.C.E. and the Border Patrol, and now has been brought to bear against anti-racist activists. Trump is testing to see how far he can go. On July 17 he tweeted that he intended to bring his secret police marauders to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland – all cities run by Democrats.
Make no mistake, this presidential rapid deployment force is a serious threat. This kind of right-wing terror squad was always inherent in the DHS since its birth with bipartisan support in the toxic political atmosphere after 9/11. The Insurrection Act of 1807 has been invoked at least 20 times, often with bloody consequences. Federal military interventions have mainly been used against labor strikes and black uprisings. Grover Cleveland used the army to break the Pullman strikes by the American Railway Union in 1894. In Detroit in 1967, Lyndon Johnson invoked the Insurrection Act to send the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, which along with the all-white Michigan National Guard shot up and occupied the city, killing 33 protesters including four-year-old Tanya Bland murdered when an army tank shot a .50 caliber round into her apartment building. Again, in 1992, the Los Angeles ghetto exploded after the acquittal of the cops who were televised beating Rodney King; the military came in and left 63 people dead.
The military can never be apolitical. On the streets of Washington D.C. and Portland we can see plainly the truth of the material nature of the state as explained by Marxists, from Friedrich Engels to Vladimir Lenin. The modern state is at bottom composed of armed bodies of men willing to defend particular forms of property. In capitalist states that means the bloody repression of the struggles of workers and the oppressed when they challenge the status quo. As decaying capitalism’s downward trajectory and contradictions sharpen, such militarized police action will be more and more frequent. To fight against it will require workers action, including strikes and mass protests together with oppressed populations, on the road to revolution.
8. “Science is not political.”
Mad anti-scientist Trump with his court physicians, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Brinx. Any scientist worthy of the name would have resigned long ago.
Tell it to the victims of the U.S.’ atomic holocaust at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tell it to residents of Flint, Michigan, drinking contaminated water (see “Flint Water Crisis: Capitalism Is Poisoning Us,” Revolution No. 12, March 2016), or to those choking on polluted air, and the millions in Bangladesh seeing rising sea levels swallow up their communities. As COVID-19 rages through the U.S., rational people ask, why aren’t the epidemiologists and scientists leading in this public health crisis? Instead science deniers disorganize the official response. But even where, as in New York, the Democratic Party politicians make a show of listening to the scientists, they royally botch the coronavirus crisis. How come?
A good part of the answer is that the U.S. does not have a public health system; it has a patchwork crazy quilt of private, profit-driven medical markets. The justified fear of a collapse of the medical system which led officials to spread the virus by sending the infected with “mild” cases home, was the result of decades of hospital closures and the elimination of hospital beds in the name of “efficiency.” So, too, was the junking of stocks of medical supply stocks, by both Democratic and Republican rulers, including of desperately needed ventilators, stored in reserve precisely for a pandemic (see “How Capitalism Sabotaged Ventilator Production,” in The Internationalist No. 60, May-July 2020).
Another factor is the anti-scientific culture that pervades a large sector of the population and the ruling class. The U.S. official denial of global heating under the Trump administration, for instance, is backed up by big business. When the president suggests that infected people drink Lysol and pushes debunked medical “cures,” his designated official scientists frown behind there masks and say, “well, he’s just thinking aloud.” The liberals have sainted one of the administration’s tamed scientists, Dr. Anthony Fauci, because unlike the more obvious power-pleaser, Dr. Deborah Birx, he sometimes whispers about actual data while still supporting the mad anti-scientist in the castle. Any scientist worthy of the name would have resigned long ago.
While liberals keep saying that science isn’t political, the MAGA cult says, “We don’t need no stinkin’ science.” America has always had an unusually large sector of science deniers. Because of the cultural weight of evangelical Christians and continued religiosity particularly across the bible belt, the U.S. is the only developed nation where Darwinian evolution is a hotly contested issue. The good news is that young people are not enlisting for battle in that particular theater of the culture wars; nevertheless, four out ten Americans believe that human beings were “created” in their present form.
With the arrival of the coronavirus, science denial and expertophobia has been married to a wacky political libertarianism that sees even rudimentary attempts to mitigate an out-of-control pandemic as an existential threat. Public health measures including masks, “social distancing” and quarantines to stop the spread of infection are rejected as an infringement of their illusions of personal freedom. They are backed up by their cult hero in the White House who tweets LIBERATE this and LIBERATE that.
Trump supporters in St. Paul, April 17, protest quarantine, echoing racist president’s call to “Liberate Minnesota.”
It has long been observed that science is true whether or not one believes in it. But how it is deployed and distributed is completely political. Perhaps the most powerful extended metaphor for the nuanced relationship between science and society was communist playwright Bertolt Brecht’s reimagining of the arc of understanding in his work, The Life of Galileo. Writing in the catastrophic shadow of Hiroshima, Brecht reimagined a profound understanding and disillusion by the archetypal scientist who had been threatened by the Inquisition into submission and renunciation of his astronomical discoveries.
At the end of the play, the aged Galileo under house arrest is visited by a former student who had become dispirited and angry at his hero when the great scientist renounced his heliocentric views. Upon learning that Galileo had been writing in secret during his house arrest the student declares that he and Galileo’s other young followers had misjudged him. He tells his old teacher that he was right to capitulate to the church so that Galileo’s scientific work could continue. The implication is that the capitulation was justified because science must exist outside the considerations of politics and history. The student, Andrea Sarti, exclaims: “Science knows only one commandment: contribute to science.”
The student is surprised by the words of harsh self-evaluation that Brecht puts in the mouth of his Galileo:
“No! My dear Sarti, even in my present situation I still feel capable of giving you a few tips about science…. The movements of the stars have become clearer; but to the mass of the people the movements of their masters are still incalculable. The fight over the measurability of the heavens has been won through doubt; but the fight of the Roman housewife for milk is ever and again lost through faith. Science, Sarti, is concerned with both battle fronts....
“I maintain that the only purpose of science is to ease the hardship of human existence. If scientists, intimidated by self-seeking people in power, are content to amass knowledge for the sake of knowledge, then science can become crippled, and your new machines will represent nothing but new means of oppression....
“I, as a scientist, had a unique opportunity.... [T]he steadfastness of one man could have shaken the world.... As things now stand, the best one can hope for is for a race of inventive dwarfs who can be hired for anything.... I surrendered my knowledge to those in power, to use, or not to use, or to misuse, just as suited their purposes. I have betrayed my profession. A man who does what I have done cannot be tolerated in the ranks of science.”
9. “We will be a better society when all of this is over.”
Thousands march from the Port of Oakland on Juneteenth during shutdown of all 29 West Coast ports called by the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) in memory of George Floyd and to protest police brutality and systemic racism. Against racist cop terror, it is necessary to mobilize the power of labor together with the oppressed in sharp class struggle against capitalism, on the road to workers revolution.
As long as capitalism governs it will be fundamentally the same society of exploitation, racism, endless war and environmental degradation. Nevertheless, one liberal after another opines on a perceived silver lining: “We will come out of this pandemic a better, more egalitarian society.” In a social-democratic dream state they argue that the pandemic will convince Americans to appreciate the “role of government” (Paul Krugman) setting the U.S. on a path to its Denmarkification. But something is definitely rotten in modern-day Denmark, witness its vicious treatment of Middle Eastern refugees.
Nicholas Kristof (East Bay Times, 18 June) is a recent purveyor of this benighted sentimental dribble. He argues, “The grim awareness of national failures – on the coronavirus, racism, health care and jobs – may be a necessary prelude to fixing our country.” His model is the Depression that “resulted in the New Deal that “built the modern middle class.” The fact that FDR’s “New Deal” sought state control of unions, preserved Jim Crow segregation through his alliance with Dixiecrats, and that the economic Depression was only overcome by the imperialist slaughter of World War II are blithely passed over. This bizarre historical analogy notwithstanding, Kristof has another reason for pandemic-inspired dreams: “one reason for hope is, paradoxically, President Donald Trump and the way he has become the avatar of failed ‘let them eat cake’ policies and narratives,” and that the pandemic will help Biden to get elected. In a worse-the-better projection, Kristof concludes:
“So perhaps today’s national pain, fear and loss can also be a source of hope: We may be so desperate, our failures so manifest, our grief so raw, that the United States can once more, as during the Great Depression, embrace long-needed changes that would have been impossible in cheerier times.”
Certainly, except for a minority of wing nuts, most people understand that a society cannot meet the challenge of a ravaging pandemic with rugged individualism. But absent militant class struggle, the likely post pandemic outcome is more social and economic inequality, not less. Education by computer will increase the advantages of the rich who are already forming privately funded pods of privilege for their kids. Millions of jobs will be lost, and ones that are created will mainly be for stocking shelves and delivering stuff for Amazon at low wages. Businesses, increasingly dependent on telework, will not rehire. Increased evictions will deepen the homeless crisis. Child poverty will increase.
In all of this the rich will be shielded and coddled, by Democrats and Republicans alike. With government support, they and their portfolios will remain healthy. After attempts to keep investors happy during the pandemic with massive infusions into the stock markets, the government will plead poverty and fear of inflation as it further cuts social services. The only way “We will be a better society when all of this is over” is if we meet the deepening crises of capitalism with revolutionary class struggle.
10. “This is not who we are. This is not America.”
Yes, it is. ■
- 1. Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (February 1968) named after the Commission chairman, Illinois governor Otto Kerner.