20 November 2011

History advises caution for U.S. radicals in alliance with reformers

Demonstrator at Occupy rally Oct. 15, Albuquerque.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Any movement that claims to represent the 99% of the U.S. population must be willing to work within a broad and diverse coalition, but any movement that ignores the ways in which liberals have historically turned on radical allies in an attempt to salvage their own mainstream respectability is courting disaster.

Let me be clear from the outset. I hold the Democratic Party as guilty as the GOP for institutionalizing inequality, wrecking the national economy and trashing the Constitution. U.S. electoral politics on the federal level, because it is so dominated by Big Money and two political parties with few ideological differences, not only fails to represent popular will but has become an enormous impediment to democracy.  I have grown impervious to the lesser-of- two-evils defense of voting, an argument that expects me to believe that anything can good can come about by consciously choosing evil.

That said, I support the American Dream Movement’s 10-point contract, the policy reform agenda championed by MoveOn and its partners that calls for public funding for jobs and education, a national healthcare plan, campaign finance reform, an end to the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich, Wall Street regulation, and an end to foreign wars.

My concern is that the historical records show that when the shit comes down, when major repression is unleashed, liberal reformers will abandon and vilify their radical allies in an effort to gain the favor of the state, Big Business, and the right. For evidence, look no further than the two Red Scares the United States went through in 1919-1920 and 1947-1957.

In the first, on the heels of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the U.S. Justice Department in the administration of Pres. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, raided the homes of radical labor activists, socialist and anarchists, many of whom were recent immigrants. Thousands were arrested, detained and deported. On the sidelines, the lions of the respectable press, like The Washington Post and The New York Times, cheered their approval. In cities across the nation, laws were passed that curtailed free speech.

Three decades later, a few years World War II, U.S. political leaders, represented most visibly by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Wisconsin Republican, stoked Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union and orchestrated public fear into a “communist witch hunt” against anyone suspected of being “un-American.” Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, the Patriot Act of its age, which restricted civil liberties in the name of security, over the veto of Pres. Truman who called it a “mockery of the Bill of Rights.”

Then, in the middle of the black Civil Rights movement, the Democratic Party abandoned the Mississippi civil rights workers, including Fannie Lou Hamer, when they sought seats at the 1964 National Convention after courageously registering black voters over the violent opposition of racists and the openly segregationist Democratic Party.  

The forces of the status quo (the investing class, the financial combines, the politicians they fund,  and the mass media they own) are planning their attacks of this nascent movement as we speak. If the Occupy movement can sustain its momentum, police repression is likely to become increasingly brutal and sophisticated. Municipal and state police, particularly after the post 9/11 war on terror, have become highly militarized in terms of weaponry and surveillance capability. The rhetorical assault over the airwaves will be relentless. Recall the ways in which the Bush goon squad savaged anyone who questioned the intelligence it crafted in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq. State rule typically requires enemies against which public support can be mobilized. Immigrants, communists, radicals, the criminal poor, and lately terrorists have filled that role in America and there is no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. Similarly, political radicals who seek systematic and not cosmetic changes have every reason to be cautious of liberal reformers who now claim to be their allies.  

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:50 AM

    Thank you for this...I finally read something that makes sense to me and gives me hope that indeed I'm not alone!!