Monday, August 29, 2011
Berkeley High's Reunion
This past Saturday, Berkeley High held an all-class reunion at San Pablo Park. Ironically, although Berkeley High has been known as an integrated school, this all class reunion was 99% North American African. I had the pleasure of the 1%, a drunk white man who somehow found me among the two thousand North American Africans and decided to sit at my feet. And then proceeded to light a cigarette. I asked him to kindly get out of my Motherfuckin' face, which his girlfriend persuaded him to do, after all, it was clear they had wondered into the park, not knowing it was a Black gathering.
FYI, the gathering was a great gathering of Berkeley Black Unity, without incident and totally peaceful, with blues music and vendors selling food and Black Art. Old school mates embraced and enjoyed the sunny day.
Briefly, I stood talking with Dr. Robert McKnight, Chair of African American Studies at Berkeley High. He requested his remarks remain off the record, but I will say Black Studies at Berkeley High is in crisis and the District is doing everything it can to eliminate it, although it is perhaps the first high school Black Studies Department in America. Dr. McKnight gave out his business card that said the following on the back:
We Ain't Going Out Like That
Join the Struggle
"Keep the Legacy Alive"
African American Literature
African American Psychology
African American Journalism
Psycho/sociology of Black Male/female relations
Gospel Choir/Black Student Union
African American Economics
African American History
The reality is that Black Studies is under attack across America. It is part of the general attack on Black people, although we think Black Studies is suffering because it has become disconnected from community, thus ignoring its mission to serve the community. Of course, in crisis it returns to community for support to "keep the legacy alive."
We know the radical black scholars were long ago removed from most black studies programs, especially in higher education. The tenured Negroes were brought it and have remained to this day with a Miller Lite version of Black Studies, if not a totally escapist version that stresses Pan Africanism above local or the national needs of North American Africans. After all, the radicals were removed because they focused on local and national needs, putting Black Studies in harmony with community, not white academia that never desired black inclusion or black educational upliftment. Would this not mean the liberation of community or nation time?
We hope Mr. McKnight can save black studies at Berkeley High, although he admitted he is tired, exhausted from fighting the administration at every turn. He may get the community support needed if his program can indeed relate to the critical needs facing our people at this hour.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Now Again in Print: Marvin X Classic!
Beyond Religion, toward Spirituality, essays on consciousness, Black Bird Press, 1222 Dwight Way, Berkeley CA, 2007, reprinted 2011.
Order now: $19.95, plus $5.00 for s/h.
For credit card orders: call 510-575-2225
This is an encyclopedia of knowledge. He's a griot if there ever was one!
--Mumia Abu Jamal, Live from Death Row
Marvin X has done extraordinary mind and soul work in bringing our attention to the importance of spirituality, as opposed to religion, in our daily living. Someone�maybe Kierkegaard or maybe it was George Fox who�said that there was no such thing as "Christianity." There can only be Christians. It is not institutions but rather individuals who make the meaningful differences in our world. It is not Islam but Muslims. Not Buddhism but Buddhists. Marvin X has made a courageous difference. In this book he shares the wondrous vision of his spiritual explorations. His eloquent language and rhetoric are varied�sophisticated but also earthy, sometimes both at once.
Highly informed he speaks to many societal levels and to both genders�to the intellectual as well as to the man/woman on the street or the unfortunate in prison�to the mind as well as the heart. His topics range from global politics and economics to those between men and women in their household. Common sense dominates his thought. He shuns political correctness for the truth of life. He is a Master Teacher in many fields of thought�religion and psychology, sociology and anthropology, history and politics, literature and the humanities. He is a needed Counselor, for he knows himself, on the deepest of personal levels and he reveals that self to us, that we might be his beneficiaries.All of which are represented in his Radical Spirituality�a balm for those who anguish in these troubling times of disinformation. As a shaman himself, he calls too for a Radical Mythology to override the traditional mythologies of racial supremacy that foster war and injustice. If you want to reshape (clean up, raise) your consciousness, this is a book to savor, to read again, and again�to pass onto a friend or lover.
�Rudolph Lewis, Editor, ChickenBones: A Journal
Marvin X is available for readings, lectures and performance. firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, August 27, 2011
photo Princess O. Davis
Keyshia Cole Day in Oakland
Marvin X reads poem dedicated to Keyshia Cole. The poet was accompanied
by Aries and Toya Jordan. As he ended his reading, Keyshia came on stage and the crowd went wild. Keyshia gave a wonderful micro-concert that revealed her awesome talent. Her remarks showed her love of community and she promised this is just the beginning of her giving something back. We need more conscious artists to advance the cultural revolution among North American Africans.
Click on people's faces in the photo to tag them.
Click on people's faces in the photo to tag them.
Hip Hop, the New World Order
British Hip Hop Interviews Hip Hop Producer, Muhammida El Muhajir
Written by Esh
|Thursday, 17 March 2011|
| Muhammida El Muhajir was the first person to make a documentary about global Hip Hop. I was lucky enough to get hold of her and find out about her amazing experiences around the world.
Muhammida: My name is Muhammida El Muhajir and I’m a producer and the director of the documentary Hip Hop: The New World Order.
Why did you make the movie?
Muhammida: I was initially inspired to make the film, primarily because here in America we don’t get a lot of information on things that are happening outside of our country, unless it’s… tragedy, you know, we don’t really hear about what young people in other countries are doing. You can find out but you really have to do a lot of research.
Whereas I feel in the international countries they all are aware of what’s happening in America, with American youth and our pop culture, and I just knew that Hip Hop was having a really tremendous impact on young people here in our country, and I imagined it was having similar impacts in other countries as well, but we just didn’t get a lot of the information.
Being here, you’d be at nightclubs and you’d see these Japanese kids, all decked out with timbs and gold teeth, so what’s happening over there that they are so into it. Also here in the States, for the most part, Hip Hop was looked at pretty negatively, you know, it’s very violent, it talks about women, all things that are very true, but I don’t think people were looking at the positive influences it was having.
How did you go about deciding which countries and artists to put in the film?
Muhammida: As far as the countries, I thought about places that it was interesting, that Hip Hop was there, or places where it was really popular. So, those were the countries that I went to: I went to Japan, Cuba, France, UK, Germany, Holland, South Africa and Brazil. So, again just being on this side of the water I didn’t have a lot of information about which artists were really big. Usually I would have one or two contacts and once I got to the country I’d find out who’s who and what’s what and be led to the right people like some kind of crazy Hip Hop domino effect.
You made some good contacts then?
Muhammida: Most of the artists that I interviewed and started some sort of relationship with, they for the most part are like the forefathers of Hip Hop in their respective countries. So it just so happened that those people are the people who set the foundation for Hip Hop in many of their countries. So we talk about Japan, DJ Muro, Zeebra, K Dub Shine, all those guys who are still very influential in the Hip Hop scene there, but were there at the beginning. That goes for pretty much each country.
The documentary was a totally independent project so it’s been about 10 years - I’ll stop and I’ll go off on some other project and come back to it. But now it’s like a historical reference. I think that there are a lot of other documentaries that have come out since that time, but I don’t think anything really touches on all those people and all those countries and really shows it - it was a guerilla style project so very intimate - you, me, my little camera and these guys at their homes or in their studios or in their car so you get a kind of birds eye view of these guys talking about their experience, and just seeing them, eating balls of super noodles or whatever it is. It was an interesting glimpse into their lives.
I interviewed the director of The Furious Force of Rhymes, Joshua Atesh Litle, who was the 2nd person to do a global Hip Hop documentary…
Muhammida: Actually I think I was the first person to do it. Mine came out in various stages, but before I started on my project I have never really seen or heard something similar, maybe something about Hip Hop in Cuba or little things… but I think what people have done has been amazing and just to see the growth and the interest in international Hip Hop, I am really excited about that.
So you’re still a fan of international Hip Hop?
I haven’t had an opportunity to see your movie in full yet…
Muhammida: Part of that problem is, as I said, it was a totally independent project so it has not been distributed yet, so I’m working on that for next year. Again, I put it on the back burner, but now it is a historical reference piece and when people are studying the art and the culture of Hip Hop, it can be a very useful reference, in addition to a lot of the other projects that you mentioned and have highlighted.
What year did you begin with the film?
Muhammida: I went to Japan in 1998, that was the first country I went to. It wasn’t like an ongoing project where I shot continuously. I was working full time, so maybe I’d take a holiday and go to another country. It was my own money, I’d raise money… so it was shot over a period of about three years.
Hip Hop has a political angle, did you put that in your film too?
Muhammida: What I put in my film was, I really tried to show how in each country people are using this art form. For what forms of expression is Hip Hop being used as a vehicle? So all the things that people here hate about Hip Hop are really the things that make it uniquely American. Those are all the things that are part of American culture and society that people are hating… It’s really not the Hip Hop. Hip Hop is a gun that you could use to kill, to do violence, or it could be used to protect your family… it’s not Hip Hop itself that’s violent or negative or misogynistic, it’s really the American experience.
Here, we are one of the most violent countries in the whole world. So that experience is going to be reflected in our Hip Hop. I think that other countries where materialism and consumerism and all those issues are not a factor - their Hip Hop does not reflect that. No other place in the world is like it is here in America. I dig that people were using it as a political platform. Artists like Racionas MCs in Brazil - when (former Brasilian president) Lula ran, he tapped into their power and popularity, and that’s a huge force, that can be used for positivity and really it’s become a youth movement.
I titled my film Hip Hop: The New World Order because I saw it as this new force and this new movement. If it was used in the proper way it could really make a lot of social change.
So being in New York, the Hip Hop capital, do you get a lot of attention for the film?
Muhammida: Well definitely in the past, people are looking for it. I get calls every week or so from Universities or somewhere that’s looking to purchase it or screen it and I’ve screened in the past and got lots of press internationally. The people are definitely waiting for it to come…
The title, Hip Hop: The New World Order, has some interesting parallels with the music right now…
Muhammida: Speaking about conspiracy theories and things like that, people here are looking at this commercial sort of Hip Hop in America as a way to forward some of those capitalism platforms and promote all the things that being in a capitalist country, benefits the system, the consumerism, the ‘me me me’ attitude. Just a lot of those things that are characteristics of this society and help it propel forward whether it’s positive or negative.
Then you hear stories about this artist or that artist who are part of the Masons, all those things, on YouTube, so you never know… Part of this New World Order is that we gonna have this common government and common financial and political system, and I thought it was kind of a play on that with Hip Hop because traveling around the world, you see that through Hip Hop, kids are having this commonality of language, of style, of dress. Because I was down with Hip Hop, I was immediately connected to other people - despite language barriers or anything else we had that in common and that immediately bonded us.
Tell me about your personal experiences of Hip Hop before you made the movie…
Muhammida: I grew up with Hip Hop. I am about the same age, maybe a couple of years younger than what we consider modern day Hip Hop. I am a fan, an observer, an analyst I would say, all those things. I worked in the music industry, I worked in the film industry, I was a casting director. I’ve been involved in Hip Hop and in music in a lot of different levels working with artists and record labels so I’ve had a very close relationship with the music and the culture.
Which artists would you recommend right now?
Muhammida: I have always loved artists who have been able to really combine social commentary with the art and do it a very cool way so it’s not totally preachy, but you can jam to it to. So I always loved Dead Prez for that, they’ve really been at the forefront of that. I love Mos Def, and some of the new guys out here like Lupe, and I’m still following some of the international artists, mainly the ones that are featured in my film, Anónimo Consejo in Cuba, Oxmo Puccino, he just put out a live album…
I mentioned the relationship I had with some of the artists. Oxmo Puccino was in New York and I filmed him just at a café somewhere in New York, it was just crazy. And with Zeebra riding around in his jeep in the streets of Toyko. I love to see the growth that those artists have had… Roots Manuva in London. People who are really innovators in the music and the culture, worldwide - Blak Twang in the UK. A few months ago I ran into DJ Vadim on the streets of New York. These are people who are like the major power players in international Hip Hop, and I was really grateful to have them all as part of the project.
Even some of the American artists like Questlove who was in Tokyo when I shot him. Method Man, who really gave a humorous perspective on international Hip Hop with his experiences travelling abroad… Dead Prez were also in the film and I shot them in South Africa, they were pretty much the first US artists to go to South Africa and do a concert. Some really historic things happening in Hip Hop are incorporated into the piece.
I cant wait to see it!
By: Esh | IBMCs on Facebook
Trailer on youtube:
Friday, August 26, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Click on people's faces in the photo to tag them.
Oh, Sister Keyshia
Oakland loves you
Like you love Oakland
We honor and respect you
Your creativity, your humanity
The wisdom of your life
Lessons of love between you and your mom and family
All sisters and brothers need to know and master
The unconditional love that is you
The faith and determination
We love your inspiration
We need your love lessons right now in Oakland
We need you to let your little light shine
So we can see through the dark moments that consume us
When love is gone and bitterness makes us drunk
Hateful and spiteful, jealous and envious
Oh, Sister Keyshia
Sing us a happy song
How you got ova
In spite of all the blocks in your path
All the rats and vermin, the roaches and flies
Couldn’t turn you round
Just made you stronger
Made you the beautiful woman we love.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Notes on Teaching Youth
Be humble at all times, your future is in your hands, no matter what else, you will not be here always, a new generation is upon us that must be taught our traditions, all the technology of the global village, high finance, the essentials of capitalism no matter if we call ourselves Communist, Socialist, Pan African, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu.
There must be some economic system whereby men and women can engage in commerce, sell, barter, consign. We don’t give a damn what you call it; just organize a way to deliver goods and services to the people.
We only know this: no one should starve in the village, nor be homeless, or illiterate, or in ill health without a medical plan.
Your children shall need your counsel and advice always, so be there for them, first setting example, we know words are cheap. Let the children see us doing the right thing for ourselves, and then they will know what to do, more than likely they are doing the right thing already, just might need a little common sense advice.
In teaching youth, we should consider their level, not our superior educations, whether academic or self taught in the model of Merritt College students Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Ernie Allen, Marvin X, et al.
Was not the purpose of those rallies on the steps of the old Merritt College on Grove St. /Martin Luther King, Jr. to “break it down to the masses”? And so we must break down abstract terminology such as freedom, slavery, racism, capitalism, socialism, Pan Africanism, white supremacy.
Give definitions, break words into syllables. Do not assume a twenty-five year old male or female has any knowledge of the above subject matter. Do not assume they can read. Do not assume they have traveled ten miles out of their turf. Do not assume youth living in Newark have visited New York. Do not assume youth in Oakland have visited San Francisco. I took a twenty-five year old female to San Francisco recently, who grew up in Berkeley/Oakland. When we came up from the BART or rapid transit system, she said, “Wow, look at these big buildings. Wow, they are so tall. Wow, look at all these people on the street. Look at these big banks on every corner. And they treated me so nice at the bank, not like Oakland and Berkeley. I didn’t know this world existed. I have to come over here more often."
Mayor Jerry Brown, now California Attorney General, used to say Oakland was closer to San Francisco than San Francisco, in his racist attempt to gentrify West Oakland. But how often do West Oakland youth get on the BART for a visit to San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a romantic city based on tourism, yet how many youth are plugged into the multi-billion dollar tourist industry, mainly they are at the wharf as dummies, robots and hip hop dancers. Thank God for that.
But how shall we teach them economic self sufficiency? Get a job and be pimped for life? Become a wage slave and teach your children to go to college so they can also become a cog in the wheel of capitalism and slavery (C. Eric Williams, who himself became a victim of capitalism and slavery as prime minister of Trinidad, see Marvin X, The Black Power Revolt In Trinidad, Journal of Black Poetry, circa 1972).
Micro Credit Loans for Youth
This is a process of loaning small amounts of money, say one hundred to three hundred dollars to youth so they can “come up” in a legal endeavor, not selling drugs, pimping, murder, but some project to deliver what the people need, such as food, clothing, shelter.
Visit the cities of America and we shall see what needs are addressed on the street, not to speak of inside businesses.
On the street youth sell T shirts, incense, oils, jeans and other urban gear. They sell books, especially in New York. And there are Latin youth selling fruit, vegetables, DVDs and CDs, black youth do this also to a high degree, to the point police do not harass them since they are doing something for self and not causing mayhem.
No matter the age of your children, connect with them, they need you, whether they say so or not, no matter if your children are 20, 30, 40, 50, they need you, your guidance, wisdom, love and attention. Sons need you, daughters need you. Tell them what a man must do to be a man. Ask their forgiveness for your unmanly or unwomanly actions. And clean up your act. Do better. Make a visible recovery from your wretchedness. Let your children see that you love them and that your love is unconditional, no matter what they do, success or failure, you are with them to the very end of time.
Black on Black Crime
Black on black crime is symptomatic and problematic of the perilous condition under which we live on a daily basis in the hell holes of America. We shall continue killing each other until we come to know who we are as Divine beings in Human form, that our bodies are the temple of the Divine, our bodies and minds, thus we should delete all negative thought such as hatred, jealousy, envy, and other negative thoughts that prevent us from enjoying the Divine plane of life.
On the matter of murder, my wise adviser told me, “When you kill your brother, you kill yourself. Two of you are dead. The killer is a dead man walking. As the Bible says, As Thou Hast Done, So Shall It Be Done to Thee.
Don’t be hypocritical, youth and adults. I know so many youth and adults who have lost loved ones to violence. No one is rioting over their loved ones, no one is protesting their lost. No one cares. The relatives and friends suffer in silence. They cannot discuss their grief with anyone, no one wants to know of their lost.
There are few mental health and grief counselors in the hood. The Oakland Grief Centers the City set up are a good example of what must be done to alleviate the trauma of life in the Wilderness of North America. What can we expect? More importantly, what can we do to advance our agenda for the masses, the wretched of the earth? No struggle, no progress, power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and never will—our great ancestor Frederick Douglas told us this in the 19th Century.
There must be a higher level of organizing than rioting through the streets. If and when they come down on the people, do you have food, water, generators in reserve? Do you realize one flush of your toilet consumes five gallons of water? Do you have five gallons of water to drink, let alone in your toilet? Have you heard drought and famine are coming? Are you prepared? They taught us in Boy Scouts to be prepared.
Of Scholars and Teachers
Oh, my God, in the spirit of David Walker, let the poor righteous teachers do their duty to children and youth. We honor them and pray they shall remain on their posts, teaching the uncivilized youth who truly seek wisdom and knowledge. One need only converse with them in a moment of quiet, such as jail, prison or a depressed moment in the hood, away from peers and parents, on the street as I have encountered so many times on the streets of Oakland, especially at 14th and Broadway, my outdoor classroom, aka, Academy of da Corner, and the main scene of rioting over the New Year’s Day murder of Oscar Grant by the BART police.
Teachers and scholars must teach a new way. A radical approach is needed at this time, surely we all agree on this? We must at least have food, clothing and shelter, basic needs. All else is talk, hype, sham, don’t believe the hype!
Shall our children and youth be homeless, abandoned, school dropouts, prison bound, or shall we speak to them with parental authority, warning them of death on the streets, in unsafe sexual encounters, hanging out with drinking and gambling buddies. And please consider the tone test when encountering the police. They can kill you, jail you or release you, depending on your tone of voice. You must pass the tone test with another brother and sister as well. Everybody is on edge, stressed, so watch your tone of voice, watch how you look at people, don't stare. Many people come on the street in a mind-altered state, thus they often imagine you have said something you didn't actually say, or they assume you were staring at them when you weren't. So be cool on the street. Teach youth how to act to survive in the urban jungle. There is no other lesson.
Take Advantage of Obama Drama
Youth should take full advantage of this critical moment of change in the history of America and the world. In the next few months, take advantage of economic and educational opportunities the government will offer as a way out of the depression caused by greed and other cancers of the addiction to white supremacy, especially during Obama's reelection campaign. He will spend a billion dollars to get reelected or reselected, so figure out how much of that billion you can get hustling Obama gear, T-shits, caps, buttons, photos, etc. Don't sit around like a frog on a lily pad. You can copy color pictures of Obama for 35 cents, get picture frames from the dollar store, then sell them for $5.00-10.00 or more. Life is a thinking man's game, so think! You can do it, your ancestors did!
--El Muhajir/Marvin X
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Drugs, Art and Revolution, a discussion of Marvin X's classic docudrama of his addiction and recovery from Crack, including the scene of his last meeting with Black Panther Huey P. Newton
in a West Oakland Crack House. This discussion at Sista's Place in Brooklyn, NY, 1997, included Omawale Clay, Sam Anderson, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Amina Baraka, Elombe Brathe and Marvin X.
Sista's Place produced the New York performance of his play that Ishamel Reed called "The most powerful drama I've seen."
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Part Two:A Fictional Interview with President Barack Obama by Marvin X
MX: Mr. President, thanks for allowing me to interview you again.
Prez: The pleasure is all mine, Marv. I truly enjoyed our last talk, although, in your style, you raked me over the coals. I'm not going to let you get away with it this time.
MX: Aw, Prez, you can't have thin skin in the game you're in.
Prez: You think I don't know that by now? I'll be lucky to get out of this situation with any skin, thin or otherwise.
MX: Why you say that, Prez?
Prez, Marv, I'm gonna drop a bomb on you. I'm going to give you an exclusive.
MX: Drop it like it's hot.
Prez, I've had just about enough of this bullshit, fake aas job in the White House.
I've said more than once I don't give a damn if I'm a one term Prez.
MX:Prez, you not going to run for a second term?
Prez, Hell to the naw, fuck these peckerwoods and nigguhs too. I don't like being pressured from above and below. I see you can't win in this game, so I'm checking out before I get in too deep.
MX: I can't believe what you're saying.
Prez, I thought about it long and hard, talked it over with Michelle and my girls. They said, Dad, do what you gotta do, we with you all the way, whatever you decide.
Even my mother-in-law said, Boy, use the mind God gave you. I told you these white folks is sick.
MX: So are you going back to Rev. Wright's church?
Prez, Marv, first let me ease out the door of that funky White House. Then let me come up for air. Hell, you know I hated to denounce my preacher, but I had to play the game. You nigguhs act like you didn't understand I was gaming the white man, but I was. You know ain't no way a nigguh could stay in Rev. Wright's church for twenty years and not get addicted to black consciousness, but Rev. Wright understands what I had to do to get over on these peckerwoods. They been lying and gaming us for 400 years.
MX: Sho you right.
Prex, A nigguh better learn some game up in this motherfuckin bullshit called America. And the first lesson a real nigguh need to learn is how to lie to the white man's face just like he been doing us the last 400 years. Lie with a smile.
MX: Prez, you talking like Marvin X?
Prez, Let the truth be told. I tried to play the game but it ain't worth it. Why should I spend a billion dollars for my job when millions of people have no job and little chance of getting one anytime soon. A billion dollars for one job? Just doesn't make sense, I rather be unemployed just like them. Let me go back to community organizing, something I like to do and can see the results. I ain't caught nothing but hell with the political bullshit, hell from both sides. If the pecks ain't downing me, I got to deal with nigguhs like you, Marv, fucking with me night and day, you and Cornel and his sidekick, that bitch Tavis. You nigguhs need to cut me some slack, damn. And naw I ain't invitin you nigguhs to the White House for beer.
MX: Prez, you said from the beginning it wasn't about you, but us, so us is on your ass and gonna stay on your ass til you do the right thing, if that's humanly possible.
Prez: Hell, I been doing all I can do. I got you health insurance, didn't I?
MX, Prez, how a nigguh gonna pay for health insurance with no job?
Prez: Marv, I did what I can. You know all the jobs and money are gone overseas. What the hell can I do? All this was in place before I came into the White House. The jobs are gone to China, India, Brazil, and there's nothing I can do about it? The Indians say they'll come to America and hire our workers but at the same wages paid in India. You know them Coolies are crazy. Ain't no American MBA gonna work for $14,000 per year when they used to $140,000 per year.
MX: Prez, I know you can configure something to get our people and the masses of Americans back to work doing something.
Prez: Hell, seem like there ought to be a few job openings, after all, I sent a million illegals back across the border.
MX: Prez, you know ain't no nigguh doing what the Mexicans do, and work hard at it, and be on time.
Prez: I did what I can do. I can't do everything, I'm not a miracle worker.
MX: But you said change we can believe.
Prez: Yes, change you can believe, but what is belief? I know what I know and I know I'm getting the hell out the White House. I've had enough of those No People. Let them fight between themselves like blind fools, Democrats and Republicans, two sides of the same intractable coin of white supremacy. Didn't you write about it?
MX: Yes, you mean my book How to Recover to the Addiction to White Supremacy?
Prez: I read it. Very insightful. But you know white people ain't ready to recover from white supremacy.
MX: Of course not, too many white privileges. Like Chris Rock said, "I'm a rich nigguh, but don't no white man wanna be Chris Rock. So you have no solution to the job crisis in America?
Prez: Marv, you know the solution is to redistribute the wealth, and who's ready to share the wealth, not the guys I know on Wall Street, people in the military/corporate complex and international finance. They say they will destroy the world before they give up white supremacy. I tried to compromise with them, but you were right when you wrote about them and described them as the No People.
MX: Well, Prez, if you change your mind, let me know.
Prez: Marv, I'm the first Black President. I am satisfied to go down in history as that. Ain't that a hell of a thang? The first nigguh president.
MX: Yeah, nobody can take that away from you, whether you accomplished anything else, guess it don't matter.
Prez: Not to me, fuck it. Let me go home to Chicago. To hell with those hard headed, recalcitrant, incorrigible, die hard, Republican devils and their tea party sycophants. At least I did one thing.
Prez: I got that Osama bin Laden bitch.
MX: I thought he died five years ago of a liver condition.
Prez: Marv, my Seals got that motherfucker. Don't believe all that conspiracy bullshit.
MX: Where's the body, Prez.
Prez: We had to dispose of the body. Those Muslims would turn his grave into a shrine for terrorism, you know that.
MX: What about Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia.
Prez: Marv, I'm trying to deal with those issues right now, but we'll still be over there killing for the next hundred years, hell, how long we been in Korea, Japan and Germany. Hey, I gotta get back to work (laughs). We'll talk again soon, I promise.
MX: Thank you, Mr. Prez.
15 August 2011
How To Stop The Killing in the Pan African Hood
By Marvin X
"The reactionaries will never put down their butcher knives,
they will never turn into Buddha heads."—Mao
We are talking about a condition in the hearts of men, an evil sore festering and stinking like rotten meat, to use that Langston Hughes metaphor. It is a spiritual disease more prevalent than HIV, for it consumes whole countries, not only Pan Africa, but it may be said to originate in Europe because lying and murder is the great theme of this culture, and Africa and Africans throughout the Diaspora are victimized and suffer this malady equally with their colonial Mother. See how Europe butchered the butcher's sons in Iraq, or is this the democratic way of life she is bringing to the sand nigguhs?
The problem is how to throw off the vestiges of colonialism to become the New Man and New Woman. Of course, we must first recognize how sick colonialism has made us throughout Pan Africa. Somehow we must bow down and ask forgiveness of our Higher Power, the ancestors, the living and the yet unborn. There must be a cleansing ritual performed until the mud and slime of Western culture is purged from our minds, bodies and souls.
The Western gods must be destroyed, crushed to the earth and stomped into eternity, for they have blessed us with ignorance, superstition, greed, lust and pure evil, allowing us to become worse than beasts in the field, committing the worse atrocities, yea, even worse than all the teaching of our colonial masters.
No doubt Africa is paying for the great sin of sending her sons and daughters into slavery. Has Africa asked forgiveness of herself, yet she wails for apology from the slave master's children. Has she given reparations to her descendants lost in the wilderness of North America? Has she ever sent a symbolic ship or plane to bring them home? So Pan Africa lives a slow death because she allows corrupt, boastful, arrogant leaders to control her nations, her leaders shelter each other, covering their multiple sins, protecting themselves from people's justice who would rightfully hang them like Mussolini and his wife.
Like jack in the box, Pan Africa must jump out of her iniquities, she must call forth the divine energy within the bowels of her soul and step into the New Day of light, breath and health. She cannot allow her children to devour her from coast to coast, sea to sea, from America to Africa, but children only mock the behavior of adults, so we cannot blame them, children are children, so adults must step to the front of the line, no matter how busy they are doing nothing, for they are surely doing nothing if the village is in chaos, security being the top priority of civilization.
Everyone must become the central command, every man and woman must be about the business of teaching new values, new ways of thinking and acting that are not harmful to the human soul and the human condition. The world is so full of wisdom it escapes us because our quest is for the trivial, the low things of life, not the things in the upper room, but those in the basement, in the gutter of our minds and hearts, that is where we dwell, that is our focus and this is why we suffer. Kobe gives his wife a four million dollar rock, but will it placate her soul, will material things correct a spiritual problem of faith and trust?
The West has a sordid history buying people as Pan Africa can attest, but everyone is not for sale, those of integrity will jump ship, will eat the whip and the gun, for persecution is worse than slaughter, the Qur'an teaches.
No, physical weapons cannot solve the problem. Look at Israel, she has the all the modern weapons but she cannot defeat the spirit of a people determined to be free. So Pan Africa's children can and must be armed with a new consciousness. Even Fidel Castro has said the new weapon is consciousness! Like Johnny Appleseed, we must go about spreading consciousness, teaching unconditional love and forgiveness, sharing knowledge and wealth with the poor and ignorant, the brokenhearted and oppressed. I am not trying to be sentimental, but we can and must flip the script as they say in the hood.
Again, like Jack, we must jump out the box of mental and physical oppression by taking a new look at reality, by stopping a moment to wonder at the pleasure in the sun, the trees, the sea and mountains, the glory of being alive each moment to share human love, being grateful we have a moment on this earth to whisper truth to children that they may rise and be a pleasure to the ancestors watching everywhere. Yes, we must transcend block man and block woman, the block within ourselves even, and reach forth into the realm of new possibilities, not allowing evil and her brothers and sisters to control the air and sun that comes each day blessing us with another moment to walk in the light, escaping the darkness of ignorance, greed and lust and violence.
Black men, go into the hood and take the guns from your sons, yes the sons you abandoned, neglected and rejected, the sons who look like you although you deny this, the sons who walk with sad hearts, hardened because they long for you, for your love and guidance, for your wisdom and strength, after all, Mama did all she could to raise her manchild in the promised land.
* * * * *
A Response to "Killing in the Pan Africa Hood"
By Rudolph Lewis
Marvin, there is great wisdom that should be heeded in your essay "How To Stop The Killing in the Pan African Hood." I am aware that a new set of values (though possessed by our enslaved ancestors but now abandoned under the "new world order") and a new perspective of our place in the world, of our past and future are earnestly needed in these dire times.
The most important of these new perspectives is couched in your paragraph that reads as follows:
Has Africa asked forgiveness of herself, yet she wails for apology from the slave masters' children. Has she given reparations to her descendants lost in the wilderness of North America? Has she ever sent a symbolic ship or plane to bring them home? So Pan Africa lives a slow death because she allows corrupt, boastful, arrogant leaders to control her nations, her leaders shelter each other, covering their multiple sins, protecting themselves from people's justice who would rightfully hang them like Mussolini and his wife.
In short, you suggest our critical sword should have a double edge—that is, the slave trade involved African nations and European nations collaborating for the purposes of wealth and power. They got rid of their "niggertrash." Many of those descendants of the tribal kings and chiefs who sold millions of slaves still play significant roles in the politics of today's African nations. And they will sell us again and their people again in the 21st century, if the World Bank and other internationalist (globalist), corporatist agencies offer the right price. (Check out Paul Kingsnorth's essay on South Africa and the ANCA Shattered Dream.)
In the contest for wealth and power, "black" and "white," however, are not real distinctions but illusions, a means for escapism or sidetracking those who wish to do the "good." I know "evil" has become a popular theme in the discussion of international politics and the resistance to corporate imperialism, especially from the bully pulpit of the presidency. So-called righteous men love to stand behind such symbolic bulwarks. I hope we do not become agents of such trite rhetoric—it indeed will lead us astray. It is necessary that we keep on the straight and narrow and keep both edges of our sword whetted sharp.
At no time must we sink back into mythologizing the world for the sake of political convenience, to hear merely the rhythm of our own voices. Beneath most Pan-African rhetoric (from the 19th century to the present), there is this underlying notion of Africa as paradise into which Satan (the white man) introduced evil. I recommend strongly that all Pan-Africanists and sympathizers and all other petty-bourgeois, pseudo-revolutionaries read the Malian Yambo Olouloguem's novel Bound to Violence. Or any non-romantic account of Africa before European trade began. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart will provide some evidence even in the "wholeness" of tribal life, all was not well. Even though there was a sense of justice, and right and wrong. There were some practices or acts that were just horrid, unnecessary, and "evil."
If true be told, there was more evil in Africa than one could shake a stick at. The process of empire building in Africa by Africans themselves and the perennial struggles for power and the retention of power included the wholesale slaughter of tribes (genocide), butchery, debauchery of every sort (religious, political and social), cannibalism, incest, and so on—all these acts of evil existed before modern Europe stepped onto the soil of Africa or worked out its first deal for a cargo of slaves. The emperors, kings and queens, and chiefs—to whom we have become so inured (and want to imitate by dress, manners, and religion)—did not achieve those aristocratic titles by their sweetness and benevolence but by the same means we are familiar with today in those who strive to rule and conquer. That is, they did it the old-fashioned way—by violence, exploitation, and oppression..
The aberrations we see in Africa and at home are not new. This violence for wealth and power is just as old as the first time one brother killed another for his wife or his ass. This contest for dominance has always been bloody and this violence and evil were not invented by Europe or whites. We must do away with this myth—the white man alone as incarnate Devil. Otherwise, in a perverse way, we make Africans less than human—we make them into externally corrupted angels.
There is no sanctity in having a black skin or in Africanity. This type of mythologizing gives our leaders too much credit and too much room for collaboration with corporate power and a means of duping the masses of the poor and the black working classes. It is no longer sustainable that we ask or recommend that the masses of "Pan-Africa" to live vicariously by distant observation and/or proximity to power and wealth. That an elite should live in comfort and security while the great masses attend them hand and foot with all their hearts and souls is no longer acceptable if we truly have egalitarian goals for our society. .
That kind of barbaric nobility is no longer proper in a civilized world in which democracy and human rights have been given revitalized meanings in which every man is a king and queen, or at least be acknowledged with that kind of respect, integrity, and dignity.
Our critical sword should not only land on the heads of the great aberrations of society—the likes of a Idi Amin, a Mobutu, a Bokassa, or a Sgt. Doe or a Charles Taylor, but also those respectable heads of state like Mbeki, Obasanjo, and the other African leaders who smilingly welcomed Bush to Africa and are ever-ready to make their deals with globalization. Such African leaders with such narrow interests sold our ancestors into the Americas.
And not only those African leaders there, but also here at home, we should do some swinging at our black elected and appointed officials (city councilmen, legislators, cabinet secretaries), yes and also corporate and ecclesiastical functionaries, and other notable heads, such as the leaders of civil rights organizations like the NACCP, whose board is ruled by corporate executives or such flunkies and running dogs. They too must be made to pay for their sins of neglect and moral blindness.
If we lapse into the anti-white, anti-American, anti-Western rhetoric, we will sorely miss the point and provide more fuel for these black elites to further misdirect the energies of the masses of Pan-Africa along lines of escapism and support for the status quo.
If we are to make real changes within our communities some of our petty bourgeois aspirations must be abandoned. We can no longer naively defend black middle-class sellout politicians and preachers. We must recognize a real change in the face, rhetorical aspirations, and the present corporate ties that our leaders have established. It is fine to cite Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, as some Pan-Africanist Marxists tend to do. That is well indeed. I am far from a white apologist—a corner in which some may want to paint me. But I do not want to be a black apologist, either -- I was not taught that way.
The NAACP is headquartered here in Baltimore and they just had a conference and they had nothing to say about the 40% unemployment rate here among black males (18-35); the high murder rate (about 300 a year, mostly young black males); a 50% drop-out rate from high school; neighborhoods in which only 25% of adults have a high school diploma. Brothers and sisters are paraded to jails like our ancestors to Goree Island!!! Whatever the justification for their apprehension is inadequate and should cause some shame to those who run this city and those who support the powers to be—which here in a majority black city, means a black middle class and those who work government jobs or receive money from corporate elites.
Damn, brother, we have grown ass men on the corner selling single cigarettes for 35 cents a piece. What kind of enterprise is that? And it is not just a few. Is that any way to gain a livelihood? And our shit-head leaders are worrying about whether Bush or democratic presidential candidates come to their meeting. Ain't that a matter to be indignant and upset about? But it seems we are so spiritually sick we take it as a norm the misery and the downtrodden state of the poor (black and white). That the oppressed are overlooked and allowed to continue to sink into the abyss is a grand betrayal by our leaders. Murder and mayhem is not just coming from the bottom dregs of society. We have a general slavery and devastation in which silence and passivity is imposed by poverty, the gun, and prisons? With these reservations, I support heartily the sentiments contained in your plea for earnest black work, black renewal, and black progress.
Marvin X has taught English, African American literature, journalism, creative writing, drama, technical writing at various colleges and universities, including: University of California, Berkeley and San Diego, San Francisco State University, University of Nevada, Reno and elsewhere. Or write to Black Bird Press, 1222 Dwight Way, Berkeley CA 94702.
Marvin X is available for speaking/readings, email: email@example.com
NOTE: A good and necessary analysis- but not sufficient. Leo Panitch does not deal with race/racism either within the Left or within the central core of the capitalist-imperialist system (nor does Panitch deal with patriarchy/gender issues). Unfortunately, this indicates that The Achilles heel of Left Praxis is still alive and well in these most critical of times. To really have a revolutionary impact upon capitalism-in-crisis, racism and sexism must be addressed.
Brother Prof Horace Campbell's analysis (see below: The Chickens are Coming Home to Roost) of the US debt crisis helps us see the urgent need to build a powerful national and international Revolutionary Opposition to Capital's path down the fascist road. The masses of working people everywhere are in some form of uprising- spontaneous, weakly organized or strongly organized- with the US workingclass being the least organized yet sporadically and disconnectedly resisting US-styled austerity policies and union-bashing.
We of the Left inside the Belly of the Beast have a lot of work to do in such a short period of time before new forms of fascism become the rule of the land!
Organize & Unite across race and nationality lines so that Black and Latino workers can take the Revolutionary lead inside the US!
-- Sam Anderson
The Left's Crisis
by Leo Panitch
Socialist Project - The B u l l e t
E-Bulletin No. 536 August 15, 2011
A common response of the left to the financial crisis that broke out in the USA in 2007-08 was often a kind of Michael Moore-type populist one: Why are you bailing the banks out? Let them go under. This kind of the response was, of course, utterly irresponsible, with no thought given to what would happen to the savings of workers, let alone to the paychecks deposited into their bank accounts, or even to the fact that what was at stake was the roofs over their heads. On the other hand, the even more common response was all about asserting state responsibility: This crisis is the result of the government not having done its duty: governments are supposed to regulate capital, and they didn't do so. But this response was in fact fundamentally misleading. The United States has the most regulated financial system in the world by far if you measure it in terms of the number of statutes on the books, the number of pages of administrative regulation, the amount of time and effort and staff that is engaged in the supervision of the financial system. But that system is organized in such a way as to facilitate the financialization of capitalism, not only in the U.S. itself, but in fact around the world. Without this, the globalization of capitalism in recent decades would not have been possible.
It was indicative of the left's sorry lack of ambition in the crisis that its calls for salary limits on Wall Street executives and transaction taxes on the financial sector were far more common than demands for turning the banks into public utilities. It was, of all people, the mainstream LSE economist Willem Buiter (the former member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, appointed in November 2009 by Citibank as its chief economist) who in his Financial Times blog on September 17, 2008 a few days after Lehman Brothers' collapse endorsed the "long-standing argument that there is no real case for private ownership of deposit-taking banking institutions, because these cannot exist safely without a deposit guarantee and/or lender of last resort facilities, that are ultimately underwritten by the taxpayer." And he went further: "The argument that financial intermediation cannot be entrusted to the private sector can now be extended to include the new, transactions-oriented, capital-markets-based forms of financial capitalism... From financialisation of the economy to the socialisation of finance. A small step for the lawyers, a huge step for mankind." Credit in the Hands of the State?
Well, this sounds a little bit, if you've ever read The Communist Manifesto, like the call that Marx made - among his list of ten reforms - for the centralization of credit in the hands of the state - which just goes to show that in a crisis you don't have to be a Marxist to have radical ideas if you have any sort of ambition or self-confidence. Most Marxists don't have that ambition and self-confidence today. But you do have to be a Marxist to understand that this is not going to happen by bringing some lawyers into a room and signing a few documents. What Buiter was putting forward was the technocratic notion of how reform happens. But fundamental change can only really happen through a massive class struggle, which would involve a massive transformation of the state itself.
Even in terms of calls for better regulation, with a working-class that is not mobilized to put pressure on, you can't expect this state to simply follow policy guidelines that come from technocrats, progressive liberals or social democrats. So we at least ought to be using our opportunity to do more than offer left technocratic advice to a policy machine; we ought to be trying to educate people on how capitalist finance really works, why it doesn't for them and why what we need instead is a publicly owned banking system that is part of a system of democratic economic planning, in which what's invested and where it's invested and how it's invested is democratically decided.
The sort of bank nationalizations undertaken in the wake of the fallout from the Lehman's collapse - with the lead of Gordon Brown's New Labour government in the UK being quickly followed by Bush's Republican administration in the U.S. - essentially involved socializing the banks losses while guaranteeing that the nationalized banks would operate on a commercial basis at arm's length from any government direction or control. All they asked was that these nationalized banks seek to maximize the taxpayers returns on their 'investment.' As sagely put in the 2010 Socialist Register essay on "Opportunity lost: mystification, elite politics and financial reform in the UK," this really represented "not the nationalisation of the banks, but the privatisation of the Treasury as a new kind of fund manager."
The most important reason for taking the banks into the public sector and turning them into a public utility is that you would remove thereby the institutional foundation of the most powerful section of the capitalist classes in this phase of capitalism. That's the main reason for nationalizing the banks in terms of changing the balance of class forces in a fundamental way. Build Socially Useful Commodities
A second socialist reason for nationalizing the banks would be to transform the uses to which finance is put. Let's take an example. Where I come from in Canada, the backbone of the southern Ontario economy, apart from banking, is the automobile industry. With the layoffs that occurred and the plants that have been closed (this has been going on for three decades, but it was heightened during this crisis very severely) you are not just losing physical capital you're losing the skills of tool and die makers. A banking system that was turned into a public utility would be centrally involved in transforming the uses to which credit is put, so those skills could be put to building wind turbines, so they could be used to develop the kind of equipment we need to harness solar energy cheaply rather than expensively.
We cannot even begin to think seriously about solving the ecological crisis that coincides with this economic crisis without the left returning to an ambitious notion of economic planning. It's inconceivable. It can't be done. We've run away from this for half a century because of command planning of the Stalinist type, with all of its horrific effects - its inefficiencies, but even more its authoritarianism. But we can't avoid any longer coming back to the need for planning. The allocation of credit is at the core of economic planning for the conversion of industry. When we on the left call for capital controls, we can't just think about that in the sense of capital controls that would limit how quickly capital moves in and out of the country. We need capital controls because without them we can't have the democratic control of investment. It's not just capital controls at the border that matter; what matters all the more for socialists is control over capital to the end of directing, in a democratic fashion, what gets invested, where it gets invested, how it gets invested.
Now, people often say that socialists in the last 20 or 30 years have not laid out a programmatic vision. I don't think that's true. As the Socialist Register 2000 volume on Necessary and Unnecessary Utopias showed, there were more writings on what a future socialism would look like in the last two decades of the 20th century than probably ever before. But the detailed pictures of a socialist order they painted - whether involving some combination of plan and market or participatory economic planning - have been exceedingly sketchy on two crucial things. One is immediate demands and reforms. And the other is how the hell would we get there. What are the vehicles? What are the agencies? How are the vehicles connected to building the agencies?
It is certainly very true that, whatever the vehicle or the agency, you are never going to mobilize people simply on the basis of the need to nationalize the banks for economic planning, when they know that can't come for decades, given the lack of political forces to introduce it. People need to be mobilized by immediate demands, as they were by the demands for trade union rights, a reduced workweek, a public educational system a welfare state, etc.
Some 15 years ago, when the FMLN in El Salvador after the settlement of the civil war turned itself from a guerrilla army into a political party, I was one of the people invited to help them set up a party school. And I had a conversation there with Fecundo Guardado who had been subcommandante on the San Salvador Volcano, and who later ran for president under the FMLN banner. He said to me, everybody thinks that the long term is the next election, (which since this was in 1995 would have been in 1999 there). He said: they're completely wrong - in fact, that's the short term. What we have to hope is that by 1999 we will be strong enough, have a strong enough base, to be able to make a decent showing in the next election. The medium term is 2010, when we have to hope that we will have a broad enough representation and a deep enough development of our members' capacities that we actually could have an influence on the direction of the country. The long-term is 2020, when we will be able to get elected as a government that can actually do something, that can transform the state. Angela Zamora who as the head of party's educational program was hosting me, sat there and listened to this and suddenly said, in that case I'm leaving the party. I can't go back to the people who I've been leading in struggle for 15 years and tell them they have to wait for 2020 for immediate reforms. It's impossible. I can't do it. Immediate Demands and Longer-Term Vision
So one needs to figure out how to combine a clear, ambitious sense of immediate demands with this longer-term vision. But in the current crisis the Left's immediate demand could and should have centered around bringing the banks into public ownership. The case for this could have been made in terms of the need for a massive program for public housing. After the Great Society program in the 1960s left-wing Democrats, rather than calling for more public housing to rebuild America's cities instead called for the banks to lend money to poor black communities - in other words, for the problem to be solved by letting black people, who had been largely excluded from the banking system, into it. It was similar to liberal feminism's demand that women should be able to get credit cards, which they were largely not allowed to do by the banks until the 1970s.
Well, you should be careful what you hope for. One of the effects of winning those demands was a channeling of those communities more deeply into the structures of finance, the most dynamic sector of neoliberal capitalism. Clinton carried those reforms much further in the 1990s, appealing to the Democratic Party constituency (Clinton was known as 'the black President' for this) on the basis of we're going to let you succeed at the capitalist housing game. And then Bush, of course, let every crook that he could find into the mortgage business. Of course, there's no reason why black people or women shouldn't want the same rights as everybody else - why shouldn't they look forward to their homes appreciating in market value? But you need to understand the dynamics and contradictions that are involved in trying to win reforms for people through integrating them more deeply into capitalist credit relations. And the results are now clear.
We should be also demanding universal public pensions, as the private pension plans won by trade unions now are coming unraveled for both public sector and private sector workers. And that would contribute to strengthening the working-class, because it would eliminate the kind of competition amongst workers that employers have played on with their private pensions. Indeed, increasingly we see that even the unions in largest corporations today as well as unions of public employees cannot sustain their member's pension plans.
We should also be calling for free public transit - to be available like public libraries, public education and public health care. All of this involves trying to take a crucial portion of what we need for our livelihood, our basic needs, and decommodify them as far as possible within capitalism.
People respond positively to such demands even in North America. The trouble with them, however, is that there's not that much room for manoeuvre left for reform in today's capitalism, because in order to have a major program of public housing, in order to have free public transit, you very quickly run up against where are the funds going to come from? It's possible to argue, given how cheap public bonds are today, that you can go to the bond market, but that also means that you become subject to the kinds of pressures from bondholders that is requiring the Greek and the Portuguese and the Spanish states to do what they're doing to their public sector in order to guarantee that they won't eventually default on those bonds. So you come back fairly quickly to the need to at least begin a process of socialization through taking the banks into the public sector.
We need to try to see this moment of crisis from the perspective of what openings it could create. The limitations of a purely defensive response to the crisis lie in not taking advantage of the opportunity that the crisis creates. Despite the 'Another World Is Possible' rhetoric, the left has been more oriented to attempting to hold on to things than to taking things in a new direction. Whether the struggle has been to prevent water privatization, or whether it's been to protest at G-7 and G-20 meetings, however militant the action, it's often primarily defensive in the demands that are articulated.
This is, oddly enough, one of the limits of a perspective that says you can change the world without taking power, without engaging on the terrain of the state, without transforming the structures of the state. What is on the agenda is mainly to prevent the state doing certain things and what is off the agenda is to change the state in such a way that ensures that when new progressive reforms are won they lead on to further structural reforms. We need to appreciate the reasons for the anti-statism that is so on the Left today; the suspicion of talking in terms of building new parties or transforming the state is understandable. But we need to go beyond protest, or we will be trapped forever in organizing the next demo.
And as this current crisis is transferred down to the regional and local levels, which every central state will try to do, we will run up against the limits of what can be secured in struggles at those levels. We have to learn how defensive and localized struggles can be linked up, and how they can be transformed so they are directed into a struggle for state power. Otherwise, all the protests will run up even more quickly against the kind of limits of the immediate reforms that don't lead on to more fundamental ones.
This is enormously important because we probably are facing the destruction of public sector trade unionism unless there's a shift in the balance of forces in the context of this crisis. Capitalism can only go on so long with the private sector being as limited in its unionization, its density being so low, in terms of collective bargaining rights and recognition, and the public sector being almost universally unionized. It can't continue. Part of the onslaught on state expenditure that is taking place now is to destroy public sector trade unionism. The ability of public sector unions to resist in this crisis is being very severely tested. That's how serious this is.
Speaking more generally, it is increasingly clear that trade unions, as they evolved through the 20th century, not only in the advanced capitalist countries, also in most of the countries of the South, are no longer capable of being more than defensive. They are not able to win new gains, and they are not able to organize in ways that develop the capacities of their members. The challenge now is to build a trade unionism that is actually a class organization, one that goes beyond organizing people by the workplace alone and organizes people in relation to the many facets of their lives touched by this crisis. *
Leo Panitch is a political economist and theorist based at York University, Toronto, and is co-editor of Socialist Register. His most recent book is In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives (with Greg Albo and Sam Gindin). This article is a revised version of a presentation at the Delhi University symposium on "Globalization, Justice and Democracy," November 11, 2010.
The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost-- US Credit Downgrade
2011-08-11, Issue 544
On Friday 5 August 2011, one of the world's leading credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's (S&P), downgraded the United States' top-notch AAA rating for the first time ever in the United States' history. S&P cut the long-term US rating down to AA+ with a negative outlook, citing concerns about budget deficits and political gridlock. In their statement justifying the downgrade S&P stated that:
'The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics.
'More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.'
Additionally, Standard &Poor's indicated that it might further lower the US long-term credit rating to AA within the next two years if the United States' deficit reduction measures were deemed inadequate. These are strong statements from a private agency bent on disciplining the government of the United States with the threat of a further downgrade. What gives this agency such power? In answering this question, we would seek to understand what is a credit rating agency; the source of a credit rating agency's power; what is S&P's track record and what implications do its decisions have for the international political system, especially for humanity.
In all major capitalist countries, the power of the dominant faction is hidden behind ideology (free market), law (protection of private property), propaganda (corporate-controlled media), the coercive organs of the state (military, police and prison) and the power of finance capital (banks, insurance and financial instruments). Credit rating agencies represent the power of financial capitalists and are usually held in the background to discipline corporations and governments. In moments of crisis these agencies show their hand.
These agencies along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the US military have been the weapons against the true self-determination of humanity. United States citizens are now beginning to pay attention to the power that the IMF, credit rating agencies and the military wielded over most countries in the world. US Treasuries (or T-bills) are traditionally considered to be a risk-free investment precisely because in the country's 200+ year history, its rating has never been downgraded and the securities are backed by the government.
The downgrade of the credit rating of the United States by Standard & Poor's is much more than a psychological blow to the prestige of the imperial overlords in the United States. This is a sign of a power shift and another blow to the position of the US as the sole superpower. The most oppressed must organise to break the power of capital and the imperial overlords or humanity will pay a high price.
WHAT IS A CREDIT RATING AGENCY?
Credit rating agencies provide information on issuers of securities whether the issuers are corporations or countries. A credit rating agency informs investors whether issuers of securities (such as debt obligations, fixed income securities) can meet their obligations to those securities. The top three credit rating agencies with international influence are Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings, and Moody's Investor Services. The job of these agencies is to provide an analysis of the risk posed to investors by bonds, companies and countries. The risk analysis provided to investors by the credit rating agencies is supposed to be objective. However, the credit rating agencies are private entities owned by profit-making companies performing what is essentially a regulatory role. Thus, the credit rating agencies cannot truly serve the investing public because they have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to maximise profit.
The rating agencies achieved their influence over time since the capitalist depression of the 1930s but have become more important to the US economy in the era of financialisation, commencing on 15 August 1971. It was from this date that the US gave unlimited rights to the currency speculators after it reneged on the Articles of Agreement of the IMF that had placed the convertibility of the dollar on par with US$35 for one ounce of gold. This departure from the gold standard, called the 'Nixon Shock' after the president who authorised it now backed the US dollar with the military might of the United States. During the Cold War, international capitalists were willing to shelter under the US military umbrella and one price for this shelter was to accept the political power of US credit rating agencies.
These private corporations were issued permits to be credit rating agencies by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission through the Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization (NRSRO) therefore turning rating agencies from solely private entities into regulating bodies.
In the past 20 years, the business of credit rating followed the path of centralisation and concentration of capital so that the rating business fell in the lap of the three big firms, affording these organisations the power to make life and death decisions about corporations and countries.
The subjective nature of their ratings will be brought out later but in the aftermath of the clear theft and fraud of the capitalist organization called Enron, the rating agencies in public hearings held by the SEC in 2002 insisted that credit ratings were only opinions and should have a limited role which is to assess the creditworthiness of issuers on an ongoing basis, and the 'likelihood' that debt will be repaid in a timely manner. The fact that ratings are 'opinions' is important in the US legal context in that these big three capitalist corporations seek to be protected by the First Amendment and from civil and criminal liability.
FROM WHERE DO CREDIT RATING AGENCIES GET THEIR POWER?
These credit rating agencies earn their power from the fact that they are owned by the top financial institutions on Wall Street. For example, S&P is owned by McGraw Hill Companies, one of the United States' big media and publishing conglomerates. The board of directors is comprised of the top individuals of finance capital with a few academics thrown in. The shareholders of McGraw Hill are from the top financial houses. McGraw Hill owns 'Aviation Week', which is one of the prime advocates for a section of the US military. Though S&P is a wholly owned subsidiary of McGraw Hill, Moody's, on the other hand, is a publicly-traded corporation. Its largest single shareholder, with 12 per cent of the company's shares, is Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett's company. Fitch is more transnational with roots in French finance capital.
Thus, we know that the shareholders of McGraw Hill can ensure that their ratings are sanctified by governmental authorities and most importantly, by the IMF. The power of these credit rating agencies has accumulated over time and has been consolidated within the context of the power of finance capital over the international capitalist economy. By seizing a regulatory role while eschewing clear liability, these agencies gained the political power to be whatever they wanted to be.
Since the Depression of the 1930s, statutes and rules required that mutual fund and money managers of almost every stripe buy only those bonds that have been given high grades by a Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization. The effect was to make the three certified rating agencies an oligopoly. It was this power that these agencies used against Asia by providing cover for US companies to buy up assets cheaply in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis (1997-98). This power also played a role in the recent intimidation of European countries, including Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Iceland, to launch austerity measures against workers by downgrading the ratings of these countries.
POWER STRUGGLES WITHIN THE INTERNATIONAL CAPITALIST SYSTEM
There are numerous commentaries on the downgrade of the US but the one commentary that caught my attention was that of Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration and associate editor and columnist at the Wall Street Journal. This is a civil libertarian who was arguing that there is a struggle between the military and Wall Street for power in the USA. In an article published on counterpunch.com, after quoting from the statements of Dwight Eisenhower on the rise of the military industrial complex, Roberts opined that from the time of Dwight Eisenhower till today, the United States has been dominated by the military security complex. According to this analysis of the downgrade, the only challenge to the military was Wall Street and Wall Street was using this downgrade as its leverage to fortify its challenge:
'The main power rival was Wall Street, which controls finance and money and is skilled at advancing its interests through economic policy arguments. With the financial deregulation that began during the Clinton presidency, Wall Street became all powerful. Wall Street controls the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, and the levers of money are more powerful than the levers of armaments. Moreover, Wall Street is better at intrigue than the CIA. The behind the scenes fight for power is between these two powerful interest groups. America's hegemony over the world is financial, not military. The military/security complex's attempt to catch up is endangering the dollar and US financial hegemony.'
Roberts explained that the security establishment has been trying to catch up with the power of the lords of finance by launching wars to enrich themselves and to gain more power in the society:
'The country has been at war for a decade, running up enormous bills that have enriched the military/security complex. Wall Street's profits ran even higher. However, by achieving what economist Michael Hudson calls the 'Financialization of the economy,' the financial sector over-reached. The enormous sums represented by financial instruments are many times larger than the real economy on which they are based. When financial claims dwarf the size of the underlying real economy, massive instability is present.
'Aware of its predicament, Wall Street has sent a shot across the bow with the S&P's downgrade of the US credit rating. Spending must be reined in, and the only obvious chunk of spending that can be cut without throwing millions of Americans into the streets is the wars.'
While notable, what this analysis by Paul Craig Roberts fails to recognise is the rapid integration between finance capital and the military, as manifest by the fact that companies that profit greatly from militarisation, such as Boeing has an established financial arm called Boeing Capital Corporation. Most of the big investment and derivatives firms have established links with the private military industry. All the top private military companies and the military hardware manufacturers that are woven into the military-industrial complex are traded on Wall Street. Many of the top private military companies are subsidiaries of Fortune 500 companies that are also traded on Wall Street. In fact, the intricate web of alliance between finance capital, the military and the corporate media/information mind control is now so dominant that we can talk of the finance-military-information complex, instead of the military-industrial complex. McGraw Hill is a poster child of the relationship between the military, finance and information/media. McGraw Hill is the owner of Standard and Poor's, and it is directly owned by some of the biggest bankers of Wall Street. McGraw Hill is also in the TV and media business, with stations across the country. It owns 'Aviation Week' and 'Space Technology'. The latter has been the publication that has been the mouthpiece for the US Air Force, and has been an advocate for high military spending and the acquisition of expensive military aircrafts.
As promoters of the ideology of free market and deregulation (even in the military), the McGraw Hill Companies is also a cheerleader for private military corporations. These private military corporations are involved in protecting international capital in all parts of the world The New York Times reported as far back as 2002 that one such private contracting firm 'boasts of having "more generals per square foot than in the Pentagon."' As a militarist state where all is subordinated to the needs of the financial/military interests, there is no contradiction between the two as Roberts claims.
As international capitalists with no cut-in-stone loyalty to the US state, the financial-military complex is now ready to do to the US what it had been doing to the rest of the world since 1945, intervening to discipline governments to do the bidding of big capital. Temporarily, these financial and military oligarchs need to work through the US government because it is the government that carries the authority to print dollars as long as the dollar remains the reserve currency of the world. This downgrade of the US credit rating is part of the forward planning by the top capitalists to guarantee the political and military hegemony of the richest one per cent of the US population. As the dollar loses its status there will be consequences for the global position of American capitalism. The moguls of Wall Street want to ensure that the political leadership in the United States is sufficiently intimidated so that as the position of the dollar deteriorates and there are deepening crisis for capitalism inside the US, the government will take measures to continue to ensure that wealth is transferred from the working peoples to the capitalist class. Hence this downgrade is part of a long term plan to discipline the working class and the politicians within the United States, just as how the IMF has been used in the past against the rest of the world.
THE TRACK RECORD AND CREDIBILITY OF THE RATING AGENCIES
It is now known that Enron was one of the most corrupt capitalist corporations in the US. Yet, Enron had a triple AAA rating by these credit rating agencies until four days before the company went bankrupt. When the full extent of the fraudulent activities of Enron were revealed, President George W. Bush claimed that this was one 'bad apple', implying that Enron was an aberration. But soon thereafter the duplicitous dealings and accounting practices of WorldCom and Global Crossing were revealed – WorldCom fudged accounts to show inflated profits. Up to the day that Enron sought bankruptcy protection, none of the three rating agencies caught the fraud and corruption of Enron.
Throughout the period of the power of the financial houses, the blatant conflict of interest was too hard to ignore so in the aftermath of Enron and WorldCom, there has been some regulatory response. Congress passed the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act of 2006, ending a century of industry self-regulation. The purpose of this law was to promote competition in the rating industry by establishing a transparent and rational registration system for rating agencies seeking NRSRO status. It was also designed to enhance industry transparency, address conflicts of interest, and prohibit abusive practices.
But the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was itself impotent as the world saw from the financial crisis of the collapse of the investment banks in 2008. Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers had enjoyed top ratings from these agencies and the sub-prime products called Credit Default Obligations (CDOs) were given triple AAA ratings, even when these products turned out to be garbage. Of course, this garbage was held by the same bankers who own the rating agencies.
In the aftermath of the fall of Lehman Brothers and the fact that the sub-prime mortgage crisis exposed the securities fraud by the financial houses, for a short time Wall Street was on the defensive. There were dozens of lawsuits filed against the credit rating agencies. Citizens were calling for the fraudsters to be incarcerated but the rating agencies went back to their old line that their ratings are merely opinions and are protected by the First Amendment.
It was then left to Congress to Act and after the public outrage, the financial regulatory reform law adopted in 2010, known as Dodd-Frank Law, directed the SEC and other agencies to undo that link between the 'opinions' of the credit rating agencies and the claim that they could regulate themselves.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act enhanced the SEC's enforcement mechanisms, and added a number of requirements on NRSROs that are immediately effective (i.e. do not depend on SEC rulemaking). The Dodd-Frank Act also required the commission to adopt a number of new rules concerning conflict of interests.
According to the US government and their news sheet, 'the Dodd-Frank Act requires every federal agency to review existing regulations that require the use of an assessment of the credit-worthiness of the security or money market instrument and any references to credit ratings in such regulations; to modify such regulations identified in the review to remove any reference to, or requirement of reliance on credit ratings; and substitute with a standard of credit worthiness as the agency shall determine as appropriate for such regulations.'
What this meant was that from June 2010, the SEC unanimously approved a plan to erase references to credit ratings from certain rulebooks. The agency also adopted a substitute to the ratings, the first of several such changes the commission had to enact. Dodd-Frank created a laundry list of new regulations for the industry, including proposals to make it easier for investors to sue the agencies. The SEC must also create its own Office of Credit Ratings to police the raters, though the agency has yet to open its doors as it struggles to scrape together the needed money.
Since the passing of the Dodd-Frank Act, Wall Street has been pushing back, spending millions of dollars to reverse Dodd-Frank and to ensure that the law is whittled away until it is meaningless. However, while the bankers were seeking to protect themselves, the fact that they were holding on to garbage since the financial crisis was becoming clearer. This is because the depth of the financial crisis was so much that the bail-out could barely touch the surface of the problem. In the past year, the vulnerability of the banks has been heightened by the capitalist crisis in Europe. As a means of pressuring the states of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Iceland and others to implement austerity measures against workers, these rating agencies downgraded these countries' ratings. These downgrades exacerbated the class struggles in Europe where the bankers and the bond-holders wanted to be paid. For the US capitalists, the crisis in Europe threatened the future of the Euro and the collapse of the Euro in the short term would serve the interests of the capitalists on Wall Street. This would ensure that there was no clear challenge to the dollar and the US could continue the military occupation of many countries in Europe, especially Germany.
However, some of these US capitalists were also exposed by the crisis in Europe and US banks wanted to ensure that the European Central Bank imposed austerity measures so that the full exposure of US banks would not be known. However, this crisis is not a simple one; it is structural and systemic and needs fundamental changes in how society is organised. This crisis has intensified in the past three months with the knowledge that states and societies such as Italy and Spain will also need the iron hand of international capital to impose harder burdens on the workers to transfer wealth from the majority to a minority. French banks are loaded up with the debts of Italy and Greece, and American banks are holding positions in these same French banks. Hence, US banks are not immune to the crisis in the Euro zone.
There are some who have stated that the downgrade is cosmetic because the other two rating agencies, Moody's and Fitch, have retained the AAA rating of the USA. This may seem to be the case but those who have been following the troubles of the banks and the fake stress tests know better. The timing of the announcement of the downgrade has some significance in the sense that it followed the false debate and conclusion of the debt deal.
By coming out after hours on Friday night when they knew the state of the markets, the downgrade also provided a false 'public' cover for the well-publicised subsequent fall and rise in global stock markets. Political spinners were able to point to the downgrade as the 'spark' for the drop in stock prices (particularly for the banks). In reality, the true causes are the growing risk and troubles in Europe, the continued lack of growth in the US, and the fact that in spite of all the trillions in bailouts of the banks, accounting rule changes, and the fake stress test exams to show that the banks are doing well, the market participants who understand the true status of the banks revealed that the banks are still in danger of collapsing.
Millions of persons around the world are paying attention and there are already signs that these foreign forces are losing confidence in the safety of US securities by the rise in the price of gold. The other point is that the political alliance that paved the way for this conjuncture is being strengthened by the power brokers in the Treasury/Wall Street/IMF relationship. It is this alliance that will work for the transfer of wealth to the top one per cent and will not countenance increased revenues from this small class.
As we have argued before, ultimately the question is not simply one of revenues and taxing the rich, but a fundamental restructuring of the system. However, in the short run, the call for more taxation and regulation of off shore accounts serve to expose the ways in which the capitalist class is above the law. Yet, these capitalist have to live somewhere and they do not want to live in the offshore sites of money laundering and lawlessness. Hence, they need laws to suppress workers, take away collective bargaining and the safety nets of social democracy.
The downgrade will raise the cost of borrowing; this in turn could trickle down to higher interest rates for local governments and individuals. The iterations of decline and deficits will increase the government debt and the deficit, and S&P has issued the clear threat that another downgrade will be coming after 18 months, if Congress does not follow its advice to impose austerity measures.
THE CHICKENS COMING HOME TO ROOST
US government officials are calling the methodology of the rating agencies flawed and some are calling for nationalisation of the agencies and/or the establishment of an international rating agency under the United Nations. There was no such call when the same agencies were working with the IMF to impose hardships on the rest of the world. Now, we are told that the rating agencies cannot do maths. But the destructive structural adjustment maths that the IMF-rating agencies alliance have used to destroy economies and livelihoods in the global South over the past 30 years were never questioned by those now calling out the S&P for its US$2 trillion error in its computation used to justify the US downgrade. The complaint was that a treasury official had spotted a US$2 trillion mistake in the agency's analysis. Whether it was a mistake or not, a psychological barrier has been breached. The US is no longer beyond the sanction of agencies that it unleashed against other societies.
Since the fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, politicians have sought to cushion the blows to capital by making band-aid remedies. For some, the issue was one of regulation and more control over the financial institutions. There were hearings in the US Congress and the Dodd-Frank law came into being. Through the media, the financiers went on the offensive about a recovery, but there has been no recovery because there was no fundamental alteration in the way capitalist ensured that wealth was transferred from the poor to the rich.
More, importantly the limits of US military power has been put on full display in Iraq and Afghanistan. The center of the world economy shifted to Asia while the USA and Europe were fighting in the Middle East. The ten biggest economies in Asia ring-fenced themselves against the USA and the instability of the dollar. This downgrade will reinforce this need for protection against the dollar. From China there was the warning that:
'International supervision over the issue of US dollars should be introduced and a new, stable and secured global reserve currency may also be an option to avert a catastrophe caused by any single country.'
This call for international supervision did not include any statement on the conditions of working peoples who are suffering at present. Inside the USA, the political choices have been sharpened. It is either the articulation of democratic control by the people or oligarchic control by the banks and financial houses. The downgrade was not a challenge to the government but to the working peoples of the USA and the world.
Youths in the streets of Greece, London and Cairo are giving one response. The challenge is to coordinate these responses for a prolonged and sustained struggle to break the power of the financial-military-information complex. Those who have been following the gyrations of the capitalist debacle since 2007 will note that the events associated with the 2011 downgrade are simply precursors to what will continue to happen as the last 20 years of debt-driven growth in advanced capitalist nations unwinds. In the midst of this protracted crisis the rich will seek to transfer wealth from the poor as the only means of sustaining their accumulation of wealth as year 4 unfolds of what is likely to be a 7-10 year recession/depression. The financial-military-information complex will continue to ensure that austerity to manage government debt falls on the backs of working people. Corporations will continue to claim that the only way they will invest some of their trillions in cash to create jobs and lower unemployment is to reduce regulations, lower corporate tax rates and perhaps even lower minimum wages. The American people must realise that the chickens have just come home to roost. The people must organise more and more to link up with working people's struggles around the world to break up the banks, IMF-rating agencies alliance and their military enterprise. Financial institutions should be made to serve the people, not vice-versa.
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* Horace Campbell is professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of 'Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA'. See www.horacecampbell.net.