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Source: Black Agenda Report

by Danny Haiphong

These are exciting – and frustrating – times. “The crisis of US empire has created ripe conditions for a revolutionary movement, yet no such movement exists.” Social forces opposed to capitalism’s predations multiply, yet too often fail to unify. “The task from here is to engage those who have been propelled into action by the crisis of US Empire, whether it is the Sandernistas or Black Lives Matter activists.”

On the Challenges of Building a Principled Left Movement in Our Time

by Danny Haiphong

The author delivered the following remarks to the Black Agenda Report panel at the Left Forum conference in New York City, last Saturday.

“Our movement must fight for self-determination, whether we are talking about Black people in America or Syrian people in Syria.”

I first want to wish Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh, and Yuri Kochiyama a belated birthday.  All of them have been influential in my own political development, but more importantly, the political development of millions of oppressed people all over the world seeking liberation. Second, I am honored to be sharing my first time at the left forum with Black Agenda Report. Black Agenda Report has been an anchor for me in this period of deep crisis within the fabric of the US capitalist empire. Black Agenda Report is a leader in left political thought in a period where principled left forces in the US are few and far between. So there is no better vehicle to have a discussion on the subject of building a principled Black movement than with the architects of BAR.

Now, I am not Black and don’t assume authority over the Black political movement. However, as a member of the working class and subject of this racist, capitalist society, there are few things that are more important in this moment than solidarity. Solidarity brings class unity. Class unity can only be achieved on the basis of principles. Principles lay the foundation for action and guidance as to what it will take to defeat the US capitalist empire at the root of our problems. What I have learned from BAR is that we must call a spade a spade and be unafraid to do so. Black Agenda Report has never wavered in this regard.

Marxists, like myself, pay special attention to contradictions. Contradictions are the motive force of society. The struggle between opposites is what transforms the old into the new and determines the historical conditions of a given moment. For my presentation, I want to discuss the gravest and most important contradiction today, for it will determine what a principled movement must ultimately confront in this difficult juncture of history. That contradiction is between the crisis of US capitalist empire and the ideological lag the entire left in the US is currently experiencing.

“There are few things that are more important in this moment than solidarity.”

What I mean by this is that the crisis of US empire has created ripe conditions for a revolutionary movement yet no such movement exists. It is thus worth reviewing the relationship between the Empire’s crisis and the subjective consciousness of the left. Beginning in 1973, the rulers of US empire’s capitalist apparatus found their system on the path toward endless decline and crisis. After becoming the world’s capitalist superpower after World War II, the US economy’s prosperity turned into its opposite. Technological advancements began to permanently replace human labor power and thus replace the capitalist’s source of profit. The lords of capital kept getting richer through improved productivity, but the entire system became even more costly to operate. The product of this has been nearly four decades of deindustrialization and financialization, war, and the universalization of counter revolution historically reserved for revolutionary movements of years prior.

For the masses, especially the Black working class, the impact of the jobless recoveries, growing poverty rates, and the development of the largest, most racially repressive state apparatus known to humanity has been great. The US capitalist system not only owns the most military bases in the world but also the most prisoners, half of whom are Black. It is home to the largest surveillance apparatus on the planet. Developments such as mass incarceration and surveillance emerged as both products of the counter revolutionary insurgency against the Black liberation movement of forty years ago and the heroic struggle for socialist revolution around the world in the 20th century. The US capitalist economy has reached a dead-end, and this has made the expansion of these counter revolutionary measures all the more necessary.

“The US capitalist system not only owns the most military bases in the world but also the most prisoners, half of whom are Black.”

A turning point in the Empire’s decline was the ascendancy of Barack Obama. His

Presidency has been the quintessential example of what the contradiction between the crisis of Empire and the ideological lag in the movement looks like in this period and just what forces are to blame. Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and again in 2012 to rescue the Empire from itself. He ended up being wildly successful in neutralizing radical thought and action through the politics of “lesser evilism” and Black class collaboration. Never before had the entire system of imperialism been represented by a supposed member of those it enslaved and colonized to build its foundation. His mere presence silenced many and gave the Empire a momentary breath from left resistance.

This allowed the Obama Administration to intensify imperialism’s program of counterrevolution. Black Agenda Report rightfully labeled Obama the most effective evil imperialism could buy. Thousands of people marched against Bush’s wars and anger from the 2008 capitalist crash cemented the Republican Party’s boogeyman identity. Yet in every area of policy, from foreign to domestic, the Obama Administration only escalated and added onto Bush era policies. Entire cities such as Black Detroit were handed to the banks for so-called “emergency management.” Massive public school closings, teacher layoffs, and charter school investments characterized Obama’s race to the top education policy. Poverty has risen in every year of his administration and Black wealth is below what it was in the 1960s. Obama gave the military state a boost by overthrowing Libya, escalating the war on Syria, and expanding AFRICOM throughout the African continent. He’s killed thousands by his own decree with a personal “Kill List” and a quick trigger drone program in the Middle East and North Africa. And this just skims the surface of the austerity, war, and impoverishment that the Obama Administration has wrought on working class and poor people throughout the planet.

“Entire cities such as Black Detroit were handed to the banks for so-called “emergency management.” 

In the year of Obama’s departure, much has changed. A movement against police terrorism emerged in 2015. What has been called the “Black Lives Matter” movement has shined a spotlight on the extrajudicial police lynching of Black people. In rapid fashion, efforts such as the Black Radical Tradition Conference earlier this year in Philadelphia indicated that a renewed debate and struggle over the direction of the Black Movement was in birth. This can only excite someone like me who sees the Black liberation movement as the driving force of a socialist future in the US.

The 2016 elections have tapped into the energy of the Occupy Movement and put inequality back into the political discourse. The Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns have sparked an internal revolt within the two corporate parties. This revolt has the potential to split the Republican Party and begin a similar process in the Democratic Party.  Bernie Sanders has excited thousands of progressive leaning people, especially young people by raising issues of poverty, healthcare, and education that have been thoroughly repressed by both corporate parties over the last eight years. However, the internal revolt has inherited difficult conditions. An independent movement does not exist to provide organization, discipline, and guidance to its ranks. It is up to a principled left movement to articulate the character of these conditions and organize the fightback against them. The elections simply won’t do this. Washington is the house that capitalism and racism built, and no candidate can change it from the inside.

The task from here is to engage those who have been propelled into action by the crisis of US Empire, whether it is the Sandernistas or Black Lives Matter activists. How we engage these forces is what matters. Our first commitment is to the truth. The truth isn’t always embraced right away, especially given how massive the misleadership apparatus is here in the US. A movement for social transformation in the 21st century will be in part a battle of ideas and a war over truth.

“An independent movement does not exist to provide organization, discipline, and guidance to its ranks.”

The targets of this war will be many. The US media is owned by six monopoly corporations. The Black political class, labor aristocracy and their Democratic Party masters remain in firm grip over the political direction of the oppressed. NGOs and non-profits have only further complicated the situation. These forces of misdirection must be confronted or they will continue to wreak havoc on the collective consciousness of the masses.

I have been asked many times why I write for Black Agenda Report. The answer will always be the same. Black Agenda Report reflects the radical and revolutionary consciousness that must inform and guide our movement. Our movement must fight for self-determination, whether we are talking about Black people in America or Syrian people in Syria. It must fight on a class basis and call out not just the racist bigots of our era, such as Donald Trump, but also those who create the conditions that allow them to fester and thrive, such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Democratic and Republican Parties must be held equally responsible for the crimes of capitalism and imperialism.

That means our movement must oppose the rule of capital, private property, and profit all together. Black Agenda Report consistently gives voice to the urgent need for such a movement. Now it is our responsibility to help build it in the flesh.