"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"In capitalist history, invasion and class struggle are not opposites, as the official legend would have us believe, but one is the means and the expression of the other."
Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet
In a talk earlier this year, professor and Rosa Luxemburg scholar Peter Hudis asked the audience to recall a pronouncement uttered by that "great philosopher" Margaret Thatcher: "There is no alternative!" she had asserted. To what? To Capitalism! The T.I.N.A! Still your protest: Capitalism is it!
End of discussion! Fin!
I do not recall Thatcher's pronouncement, but, here in the U.S., many of us witnessed the "muting" of dissent and the march of capitalism.
We had Reagan, Thatcher's biggest partner in the globalization of capitalism; we had first-time enlistees to the American Dream and to the pursuit of wealth, by any means necessary; and, submerged within this grandiose narrative of democracy and freedom, the idea that there is No Alternative to Capitalism functioned in a way similar to Hemingway's "iceberg theory." Anything could be omitted and the "omitted part would strengthen the story." Most Americans heard a calm lapping of water and not the gurgling of what was dying.
Those dying were still the scarred bodies of Vietnamese children, but they became increasingly invisible when the war ended. So Americans nodded occasionally at the efficiency of SWAT teams and the successful capture of indistinguishable Black faces identified by police and media banner-tags as THE CRIMINAL. Americans learned to identify the "welfare queens," the delinquent youth, the gangs, the lazy and unemployed, the criminal in those no longer "victims" of economic and political oppression.
The Civil Rights era was history. Done! In the Black community, hard-won gains, most agreed, could be lost if the "low life" and the "militant" were not thrown overboard to be scooped up by the State for "incarceration."
We lost a generation of young Black men to the battle against communism in the Vietnam War. On the home front, counter-intelligence programs neutralized and incarcerated men and women. We witnessed the disappearance of job opportunities and income for the majority of Black Americans. The under-education of generations of Black children, the commodification of "thug life," and PR programs promoting "getting ahead" and "go with the flow" (no matter if the flow en-coffined desperate Black youths) left survivors clinging to the American Dream. They grasped at it, one over-priced electronic gadget, one high-interest credit card, one fancy limo, and yes, one pair of Nike sneakers, at a time--even if another "n_____r's" or "dog's" feet were in them. Only recently, Oprah charged racism when a Zurich boutique clerk failed to recogniz e Her!-- the name brand, Oprah! the billionaire, Oprah!--and mistook her instead for a Black woman, in the wrong store, eying a 38,000 (in Francs) handbag.
Thoughts about our past, present, and future have shifted from a collective reflection on the on-going struggle for liberation to a reflection of ourselves as individuals "making it" within a delusional and violent model of existence in which we no longer value life--unless we can recognize it within, to use philosopher Max Haiven's words, "capital's paradigms of value." ("Are Your Children Old Enough to Learn about May '68?") If, as Haiven correctly writes, " "the rigidifications, reifications, and abstractions of social narratives" are intended to "ensure that the fabric of socially reproduced social division, hierarchy, and oppression" remains, and remains unchallengeable and "natural"--since such violence is the "necessary" component for capitalist "accumulation"--then we have done well as supporters and facilitators. But in a capitalist society, everything has a price tag!
As supporters and facilitators, our "successes" have come at the expense of our past, commemorated only on holidays and otherwise forgotten. Haiven's observations about the "event" in May 1968 in France reminds me that the State's absorption of the Civil Rights struggle in America, as just one example, had little to do with equality and freedom for all. Instead, the Struggle was deliberately held underwater, as it were, and drowned, even as the State's narrative hailed it as a symbolic leap to freedom for the citizens in the U.S. "[A]ll past events," Haiven writes, past acts of resistance against State oppression, were collected by the State and cataloged in the file labeled "done." Thus, any further "doing" would only look outdated. According to the State's narrative, we have gone beyond these events, moving forward as one democratic nation. In reality, writes Haiven, these "events" were "merely stages in the development of present-day free-market globalization."
So we are here, having spent the latter half of the 20th Century living lives of "endless nows" (Haiven) without life rafts, because too many of us believed that the things that have made things of us, will ultimately free us.
"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both." Those are the words of a former military general and former president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. put it this way: "An individual has not started living until he [or she] can rise above the narrow confines of his [or her] individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."
Damage has been done. We see now the fullness of the iceberg, in the "decks" above and those below, and we can see the overflow of water from below, spreading to encompass whatever racial, political, social class you hail from. The water reeks of the smell of death.