The death of Ronald Reagan and the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education are two events seemingly unrelated but tied together by a history of race in this country: Tied together tragically, intricately and necessarily.

Brown vs. Board of Education released tremendous energy in the fight for justice, provided hope for progress, broke down the ideological fortress justifying Jim Crow segregation and destroyed the underlying justification for racism.

Ronald Reagan, 26 years later, established a new form of coded racism and method of oppression by pandering to the most racist perspectives in the South and then using those perspectives for a political power movement.

Certain basic principles need to be analyzed to understand how we can build a new movement for social change.

Before Brown vs. Board of Education, ideologues for capitalism had constructed a body of ideas to justify the manifest injustice of the concentration of wealth and oppression of working people. The foundation was that capitalism, under a democratic system of government, allowed everyone to compete equally and many people were able to reap enormous wealth or at least a comfortable living through hard work, etc. While the myth had little factual basis, it had a considerable emotional attraction.

The most blatant example of the senselessness of this apology for capitalism was Jim Crow segregation. The vicious violence used to secure positions of privilege in the South destroyed any pretense of equality of opportunity.

The Communist/Progressive movement led the battle to expose this contradiction. In doing so, the two-pronged attack by a section of the ruling class was to eliminate de jure segregation and countenance the Red Scare McCarthyism.

Elimination of the de jure segregation also had another benefit for a section of the ruling class: This section of the ruling class could move plants to the South and undermine the unionization that existed in the North. It all seemed so easy for those engineers of social manipulation:

“In 1954, or even 1955 or ’57, few imagined that the system wouldn’t last another generation. Even activists weren’t prepared for the prairie fire of insurgency that opposition to Jim Crow ignited between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. Brown was both illustration of and impetus for that change. It was also a culmination of decades of careful strategizing and organizing, of protracted legal struggle, against one facet of the segregationist order – a point where its separate-but-equal sophistry was most vulnerable – led by the NAACP and its allies.” Adolph Reed, Jr., Nation (5/3/04 – Page 17)

It was not just Brown vs. Board of Education, but Emmett Till’s murder and the organizing of the bus boycott when Rosa Parks refused a segregated seat. The above discussed prairie fire, most importantly, eliminated the ideological and moral foundation not just of Jim Crow segregation, but also the very concept of racial inferiority that justified segregation.

Soon, the entire structure began to crumble. Miscegenation laws came under attack. Scientifically, the entire concept of different races was destroyed. There is only one race, the human race. That only left the cultural mores to hold up the citadel of capitalist racism.

The ideological principles of capitalist racism were destroyed:

1) There is no genetic basis for racial differentiation;
2) The entire human race originated in Africa and visual differentiation was, at best, superficial;
3) The history of racism and segregation was, in fact, a history of “racial” mixing principally through the rape of Black women.

The picture of hateful, vicious Whites screaming at young high school students trying to enter their high school in Little Rock Arkansas, the police dogs, the water hoses, the bombings, the murders, all exposed the bankruptcy of the ideological structure. Once these vivid images were brought into living rooms, Whites could no longer ignore the racist oppression of Blacks in this country. Or, at least, a large section of the white working class rejected violent hatred as a justifiable basis for the obvious oppression of the Negro population. {footnote—This was the term used in the 1950’s until the Black Power movement}.

The choices were so stark, the injustice so obvious that no one had to resolve the question of the “inferiority of the Negro people”. Nevertheless, for a large number of people, the entire concept of social Darwinism, of a society that distributed goods based on merit became suspect. Many people, both Black and White, look at U.S. history as one dominated not by merit but by slavery, segregation, male supremacy, genocide against Native Americans, and oppression of national minorities. The inherent dignity of all human beings became a demand, not a request. Bigotry of any kind, including homophobia, became a point of struggle.

Looking back at the big picture, a complete restructuring of the ideological justification* of a system promoted by the “establishment” was analyzed and rejected.

* Justifications had been created to “explain” the genocidal murder of Native Americans, for male supremacy, for the suppression of sexual orientation and national origin, for the enormous difference between rich and poor. Finally, the elaborate excuse for slavery, Jim Crow segregation, for lynchings and rape, for discrimination at the job, in education and in housing became just that: a lame, pitiful excuse.

If the Negro people were not now and never were “inferior” then heinous crimes were committed to establish the detestable privilege exercised by the richest among us. If Native Americans were not savages but people rightfully defending their land and way of life then genocide was not just charged but proven. If women were not the “weaker sex” but the equal sex the equality was the recognition of differences not the imposition of sameness. In fact, democracy itself had to be defined as the nurturing of individual expression, not the reward for individual avarice.

This process of rearing away the ideological structure of capitalist racism destroyed brick of ideological excuse after brick of ideological excuse until the entire foundation of ignorance, prejudice and intolerance was exposed and weakened. It took decades of struggle, it destroyed lives and careers but this struggle remade the world. Now, it is recast as culture wars. While this is descriptive of a small part of the process, it is inaccurate. The term is used to camouflage the actual process which was battle after battle won by working people whose sacrifice became continuously ennobling.

Because so much of capitalist racism was irrational and downright dishonest, the destruction of the rationales for segregation, for male supremacy, and for the suppression of sexual preference appeared to crumble almost effortlessly. But these ideological myths were embedded in a powerful, almost impregnable economic system of capitalism. A highly kept secret is that the entire theory of capitalism rests on a false premise: that money is neutral, it circulates and therefore distributes products in a very efficient manner, benefiting everyone.

But, in fact, money is the repository of value and power. This may sound like abstract theorizing but it has very practical results. Capitalism always concentrates wealth in fewer and fewer hands; simply put, in competition, someone wins. If money were neutral, then it would continue to be a medium of exchange. But once someone wins and money is concentrated, it becomes not a medium of exchange, but a medium of control. Control starts as economic control as when a company willingly loses millions of dollars to break a strike or a union, knowing that the control will allow the company to make up the money latter. But ultimately, concentrated wealth turns to political control. At this time, concentrated wealth has the power to alter and ultimately destroy the democratic process.

As a result, once the ideological citadel for capitalism crumbled, a new sand castle was created. Enter fanatical religion. A new rationale was created to justify the abusive concentration of wealth. God said so. The reason the Black community is impoverished is not the inevitable oppressive laws of capitalism but God’s will. The reason women are oppressed is not that they are the weaker sex, but God said so. The reason for bigotry concerning sexual preference is God willed it. And, of course, behind this religious system was enormous financial support. All these religious justifications never mention the biblical warning that money corrupts, that no rich person can get into heaven, that to know Christ is to understand the suffering of the poor. But, then religious hypocrisy is always the marching partner of fanaticism.

This was a now structure and it took years to build. And during this building process, working people won many battles. That is why it is dubbed the “the culture wars”. For instance, we are now celebrating the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Millions of people in protest, thousands died or wounded, careers forsaken to force the passage of the Act. But Senator Howard Smith had a different plan. Trying to block the passage of the Act, he added that discrimination was unlawful not only when based on race but also based on sex. But the movement at the time was powerful enough to bring in another group of people adding power to the movement and giving legal rights to another group of oppressed people.

But then the plants moved South, the unions were subverted, and a new strategy was created using new code words and subtle alterations in racial ideolology. Concepts of reverse discrimination, and a so-called colorblind society were used. More importantly, there was a separation of concepts; the concept of economic oppression was separated from the concepts of the oppression of women and the oppression of African Americans and national minorities.

In the development of the movement, women played a leading role in breaking down both political and legal barriers. Emmett Till’s mother refused to accept the murder of her child quietly and bore the pain of an open casket. Fannie Lou Hamer came out of the fields to lead a major political movement. This leadership linked up with the past of Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells and the Blues singers as described by Angela Davis. Angela Davis herself emerged as a major feminist leader.

The Civil Rights movement re-energized and nurtured the feminist movement and the liberation of sexual orientation. It was the power of this combination of forces that revolutionized the cultural foundations of the United States capitalism and capitalism throughout the world for that matter.

But the right wing was not standing still. Instead, the right wing began to regroup, create new concepts to justify the extant structures and build coalitions to keep political power.

Ronald Reagan perfected the attitude of coded racism, tokenism and defended capitalist racism. Opening his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1984, where three civil rights workers were brutally murdered trying to register Negroes to vote, he symbolically pronounced his support for the most vicious forms of racial oppression while verbalizing principles only of reverse discrimination and the colorblind society. In that way he could justify economic determinism which supported the most grossly disproportionate concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.

“There were many unanticipated legacies of Brown. The most obvious is white flight. Who could have anticipated that whites would start leaving communities because their schools were going to be integrated? Who would have anticipated that we would find ourselves with so few African American educators as role models when other doors opened? Who would have thought that an academic achievement gap would be something that we would be talking about five decades later?” Cheryl Brown Henderson, Black Issues Book Review (6/04 – page 15)

As stated by Cheryl Brown Henderson, the unanticipated legacies of Brown were surprising. However, it could be expected that a victory of such magnitude would generate a counter attack. The Reagan conservative movement fought for these results.

Shocking as it may seem, the single greatest weakness of the full spectrum of left thought in this country has been the failure or refusal, especially by liberals, to recognize that there is a powerful and fully operational right wing in this country. Whether it is Ralph Nader or Susan Brownmiller, these individuals look at all differences as antagonistic contradictions without accepting that differences can be nonantagonistic, capable of discussion and operational unity.

Obviously, this is a complicated social process. The right wing in this country must be fought militantly and with considerable discipline. However, because of the cultural history of this country, there are many differences within the working class. Those differences have to be struggled against but the struggle has to bring unity, not separation. Every step towards unity, however small, builds a movement.

“Racial apartheid has shaped and continues to shape the intimate lives of citizens in the United States. Most black people spend their personal social time primarily with other black people. The same is true for whites and other nonblack groups. Within all of these groups some form of color caste system exists, for example, whites valuing blond blue-eyed people more, seeing them as the epitome of beauty, or different Asian groups overvaluing fair skin. Tragically, in the midst of state-legitimized racial apartheid, in predominantly black communities everywhere, the intimate terrorism of the color caste is enacted. Children are its most vulnerable victims.

In my first women’s studies class, when contemporary feminist movement was just starting, I was the only black female. The white students did not comprehend what I was talking about when I disagreed with their assumption that at the moment of an infant’s birth (when it exists the maternal body), the first concern is the child’s gender identity. I shared with them that in black American life when a newborn is emerging from the body what is first noticed is skin color, that black parents know skin color will, to a grave extent, overdetermine some aspects of their child’s destiny as much as gender.” Bell Hooks, Rock My Soul, Atria Books 2003, Page 41-42

Racial apartheid has a 300 year history in this country. Obviously, Ronald Reagan did not have to invent it; he just exploited it. He relied on the sophisticated attacks already accomplished by the right wing. Focusing its wrath on those who pushed for a united struggle, the right wing conserved its power. Those who were singled out for murder or assassination or marginalization were those fought for a united class struggle.

Martin Luther King’s leadership is now reduced to a dream for a colorblind society. That, of course, was not the dream, and was not his analysis. His voice was silenced not when he had a dream but when he went to Memphis to support the rights of sanitation workers. In fact, his opposition to the Vietnam War, his building of the poor people’s march, his support of the sanitation workers all stood for an economic restructuring of society by uniting white and black workers. His assassination occurred when he called for economic restructuring not when he had a dream.

When Malcolm X turned to a united struggle and rejected divisive nationalist perspective, he was murdered. His militant humanity, never questioned, resulted in death when he moved for a united struggle by white and black workers. When he approached the United Nations for human rights violations, especially for the oppression of Black people, he was assassinated..

At the other end of the spectrum, the assassination of John F. Kennedy eliminated a strong unifying force within the loosely termed “left”. Defining “left” is at best imprecise and is always changing. But one cannot doubt that JFK represented a unifying force that provided an umbrella under which truly progressive forces could organize to unify people in the demand for economic and social justice.

Unity is the key in all of these discussions. Only right wing conservatives oppose good housing for all people, oppose decent and equal wages for workers, and oppose the elimination of racial and sexual oppression. But bringing together a united movement to fight for these causes is extremely complex and unstable. Bell Hooks discusses eloquently the effect of these right wing attacks but importantly in personal, collective but individual terms.

“In Judith Herman’s impressive study Trauma and Recovery, she argues, “The knowledge of horrible events periodically intrudes into public awareness but it is rarely retained for long. Denial., repression, and disassociation operate on a social as well as an individual level. The study of psychological trauma has an ‘underground’ history. Like traumatized people, we have been cut off from the knowledge of our past. Like traumatized people, we need to understand the past in order to reclaim the present and the future. Therefore, an understanding of psychological trauma begins with rediscovering history.” Fore African Americans, and all who seek to understand our experience, the legacy of trauma begins with chosen exile and slavery and it continues through the years of racial apartheid and into the civil rights era. We must steadfastly work to recover and document the psychohistory of the politics of loss and abandonment that has been the relentless and persistent, reenacting trauma on a collective and individual level. Rock My Soul, Black People and Self Esteem, Bell Hooks, Washington Square Press page 24

Unity was undermined in many ways.

When black liberation struggle moved from a focus on mutual racial uplift of black males and females to an insistence that black men dominate and black women maintain a subordinate position, the focus on holistic development shifted to gaining equality with white men. Civil rights movement coupled wit5h militant, patriarchal black liberation struggle successfully challenged the nation so that black people gained greater rights. Racial int3egration effectively created a cultural context where it was at least clearer to everyone that given equal opportunity, black citizens would ex el or fail depending on circumstance just like white citizens.

Ultimately, like their white counterparts, black folks in this nation gained greater economic privileges, civil rights, all manner of equality, an yet found that even with all these progressive changes all was not well with their souls, that many of them were lacking in self-esteem. In many cases black females subordinated themselves to black males, but black men were still discontent. Two-parent black families has many of the same woes as single-parent homes.

* * *

Fundamentalist Christian thinking about gender roles had been deeply embedded in the social thought of black folks from slavery on into freedom. That rhetoric joined with the patriarchal rhetoric of conservative black nationalism, reinforcing in the minds and hearts of black males and females alike that male domination of women should be the norm.” Bell Hooks, Rock My Soul Washington Square Press p. 6, 8 (emphasis added)

The assassination of leadership not only deprived the movement of important sills and intelligence, it allowed the emergence of the most parochial, exclusive narrow leadership. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were high-minded, noble leaders with great humanity. They would easily have avoided the pitfalls described by Bell Hooks. Their assassinations took that from our movement. Each time lesser minds replaced that leadership. The assassination of Kennedy, not an isolated event, allowed Johnson to pass important legislation and to divide, not unify the movement. Not allowing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, under the leadership of Fannie Lou Hamer, to become an integral part of the Democratic Party, Johnson proceeded to fractionate the movement. Then When Bobbie Kennedy began to unite black and white workers, he too was assassinated.

Once fractionated, the left began to build unifying forces. The Black Panther Party established a unifying program, opposed narrow nationalism and articulated the universality of working class demands. The BPP, however, suffered extraordinary repression—state sanctioned murders, infiltration, and political attacks. At the time, the media labeled the Party as violent but, in fact, the Party took only a self-defense posture.

By contrast, Tim McVeigh is pictured as an individual without a movement. His was, however, the face of a violent right wing movement in this country. Carrying the Turner Diaries with him, he murdered 163 men women and children. The Turner Diaries called for the destruction of public buildings fore the purpose of starting a race wart. Likewise, this movement justifies the killing of doctors who perform abortions. Nevertheless, the media has never described a coordinated movement of terrorist who implement a political agenda. Today, 25% to 33% of the American population justify the use of torture in the fight against terrorism. That probably does not include the KKK or other such terroristic groups. That, however, is the base of a bigoted, vicious movement on which Bush II relies to carry out the demands of his capitalist supporters.

That base was created by Ronald Reagan. He had always supported violent suppression of the right to vote—why else would he open his presidential campaign in Mississippi? He backed Saddam Hussein, he backed the precursor to the Taliban in Afghanistan, he crushed union efforts by the air controllers, he exchanged arms for hostages and diverted money to drug-running death squads. That is his legacy and that is what Bush II uses to implement his program.

Fifty years after Brown v Board of Education and 25 years after the consolidated power of the Republican Party by redefining terminology of racial and working class oppression, we are now faced with a Republican administration that expresses and enforces the most racist reactionary regime in the history of the country.

This consolidation of power by the most reactionary forces i8n this country is an inevitable result of unrestrained capitalism One inescapable law of capitalism is the concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. As a rule that concentration rewards the most aggressively selfish, the most corrupt at the expense of the most productive. Whether it is Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossings, Adelphia Communications or even Microsoft, the aggressively corrupt are rewarded. Once consolidate, the necessary corollary is that political power will be taken by the same group of people. Since capitalism rewards the most vicious forces of avarice and the most dishonestly greedy, the Bush cabal relies on that ethic to enforce its political will. In fact, the Bush cabal is the inevitable result of unrestrained capitalism.

The American populace has been lied to. Brought up to believe that private property protects democracy, the betrayal of democracy that we now experience causes seething anger.

But for deep seated racism and male supremacy, that anger would be directed solely at the enemy especially the Bush cabal that is the direct expression of working people’s oppression. Instead we have a polarized society where 30% of our population would support torture and that 30% consists mostly of white males who how hang onto some level of privilege, no matter how minute.

But the other side of the coin is that 70% of the population rejects torture. That represents a huge constituency even if that part of the population has less power and less privilege.

In order to mobilize this constituency, many myths and shibboleths must be shed. Liberals can no longer contend that American democracy works when only the rich can run for office and win. After all , a Kerry/Edwards victory in 11/04 represents a very small step towards constructing a fair society. The sacking of the American treasury by the Bush cabal cannot simply be eliminated; that money is now in the hands of powerful political forces. The attack dogs of the right whether Limbaugh or Hannity or others of their ilk will make any program nearly unenforceable.

By contrast, radicals and progressives on the left can no longer make crticism without first articulating a plan of action which promises immediate results. The stakes are too high to wait for higher consciousness with the working class. Taking comfort in some marginalized position is inadequate. In a war, and we can now see the stark reality of class war, allies must be obtained.

Much of the political unity that we must build will occur within the Democratic Part, not at the leadership level but at the precinct level. The first front of this war is the battle for democracy and within that strategic position we must fight for the right to vote for all working people especially the African-American community. But the right to vote must exist for felons, the undocumented and all other individuals.

The Democratic Party, as a political party, is being marginalized by the media in this country. Therefore radicals and progressive have an open field to build cross-fertilized organizations that fight for food, homes, against police brutality and demanding the base of the Democrtratic Party help ion these battles.

Illustration of this process of breaking down separation was provided in the Progressive Film Festival. The film “Panther Women” discussed the tactical and strategic methods of fighting against sexism within the Black Panther Party while building unity to fight against capitalist racism. To put it in Panther terms, it was necessary to fight internal contradictions in order to build unity for the fight against external contradictions.

The film festival provided these historical landmarks: Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit as a fight against lynching; Marin Luther King’s linking of racial oppression and capitalist oppression and the Black Panther Party’s fight for female leadership and against sexism within the Party along with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers fight at the point of production. The film festival provided practical and operational methods of building unity.

The Civil Rights Dinner of April 3, 2004, also provided that organizational framework. By fighting for the democratic rights of women within the NLG, we established the basis for building the broad coalition that became the Civil Rights Dinner. That coalition reenergized forces throughout Michigan.

Willie Mukasa Rick’s speech was integral to building that coalition. Historically, the Guild Civil Rights summer provided protection for field workers trying to register Negroes to vote but it also exposed the violence of segregationist oppression. One forgets that the South with the compliance of an important section of the media contended that Negroes in the South were content with segregation and it was only communists from the North stirring up problems. Mukasa’s speech reminded everyone that violence was the preferred method of social control by segregationist institutions. The success of the civil rights summer of 1964 and the Civil Rights Dinner of 4/3/04 depended on uniting with the most oppressed sections of the working class. To the extent that we separate ourselves even in the slightest manner from the vitality and militancy of that movement, we become sterile and ineffective. Mukasa’s speech provided that powerful energy.

In continuing this struggle, the NLG unites with its past history and obtains immediate credibility in current struggles. Guild members have made a choice to become advocates for the working class for individual reasons. But, in doing so, they have united with a collective struggle. Now we must look at methods for building operational unity with the African-American struggle in general and the NCBL in particular. If we are successful we can then build broader coalitions with the Wolverine Bar, the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, the NAACP, women’s groups, etc.

We are part of a bigger picture. The one factor that we must learn is that culture is far more rigid and immutable than we realize. Patterns of behavior, once learned, are passed to the next generation with only minor alterations.

That is why the conservative movement was able to reshape a racist society with new symbols and shibboleths even though the underlying concept of racial inferiority had been destroyed. The “Bell Curve” rewrote the junk science and they started all over again. They have now created a new series of lies and myths that must be destroyed.

The Guild has had a breakthrough and we now have 3 years of tentative operational unity. We must now look at building on this unity through further joint activity that can breakdown the cultural barriers created by capitalist racism.

Yours in Struggle,
Ronald D. Glotta
220 Bagley, Suite 808
Detroit MI 48226-1409
(313) 963-1320 (313) 963-1325/Fax
rglotta@glottaassociates.com

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