Jerry Holt, Star TribuneAn enthusiastic crowd was forming Sunday morning to hear from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
May 25, 2015 (150525)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
“The failure to acknowledge race as a fundamental feature of today’s
unequal world order remains a striking weakness of radical as well
as conventional analyses of that order. Current global and national
socioeconomic hierarchies are not mere residues of a bygone era of
primitive accumulation. Just as it should be inconceivable to
address the past, present, and future of American society without
giving central attention to the role of African American struggles,
so analyzing and addressing 21st-century structures of global
inequality requires giving central attention to Africa.”
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As readers are aware, AfricaFocus features reposted material
published recently, with the editor’s own comments limited to a
short introduction. This week is an exception, in that the article
reposted (and quoted in the paragraph above) is one that I wrote
more than a decade ago. I was led to
reread it while trying to reflect on the many recent events
reminding all of us of the unequal values given to human lives in
today’s world order, both between and within countries and
continents. These inequalities are shaped by race, place, class,
gender, and multiple other factors. But they are also molded by a
long history that systematically makes the African continent, those
who live there, and those who come from there particularly
In my view, the connection between global and African realities is
most directly apparent in the realm of issues such as climate
change, migration, and the unequal flows of economic resources,
which are regularly featured in AfricaFocus. But how these
structural stresses affect the highly visible terrain of political
conflict, violence, and human rights varies enormously in its
particularities by country. General narratives, including that
sketched in this essay, are always inadequate, and in many respects
subjective. But today’s date (May 25, Africa Day) is also an
appropriate one to turn to more general reflections. I am convinced
that the basic points made in this essay still hold true and hope it
may be of interest to many AfricaFocus readers.
For two publications in which I have attempted to address the
global/African connections with respect to the issue of migration,
see the background paper “African Migration, Global Inequalities,
and Human Rights: Connecting the Dots,” 2011
(http://www.africafocus.org/editor/nai-migration.php), written for
the Nordic Africa Institute, and the short pamphlet “Migration and
Global Justice: From Africa to the United States” 2008
(http://www.africafocus.org/editor/afsc0804.pdf), written for the
American Friends Service Committee.
An earlier related essay on “Global Apartheid,” by Salih Booker and
William Minter, appeared in The Nation in 2001
Links to additional publications available on-line can be found at
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++
Invisible Hierarchies: Africa, Race, and Continuities in the World
Science & Society, Vol. 69, No. 3, July 2005, 449-457
The failure to acknowledge race as a fundamental feature of today’s
unequal world order remains a striking weakness of radical as well
as conventional analyses of that order. Current global and national
socioeconomic hierarchies are not mere residues of a bygone era of
primitive accumulation. Just as it should be inconceivable to
address the past, present, and future of American society without
giving central attention to the role of African American struggles,
so analyzing and addressing 21st-century structures of global
inequality requires giving central attention to Africa.
“We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the
transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history
of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also
in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their
negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that
slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should
always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade, and
are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and that
Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian
descent and indigenous peoples were victims of these acts and
continue to be victims of their consequences. — Declaration of the
World Conference Against Racism, Durban, South Africa, September 8,
Coming only days before September 11, this acknowledgment by world
governments of the legal premise of the reparations movement gained
little media attention. The 62-page declaration and program of
action, already undermined by a last-minute U. S. withdrawal from
the conference, faded into obscurity even more rapidly than the
conclusions of other global conferences that have proliferated in
recent decades. In any case, the commitments made in Durban to
repair the consequences of racism were even vaguer than most such
conference commitments, such as new pledges to finance development
adopted by consensus at the Monterrey poverty summit in March 2002.
Yet the failure to acknowledge race as a fundamental feature of
today’s unequal world order is not confined to Bush administration
unilateralists or international diplomats crafting new compromise
language for promises destined to be betrayed. With some notable
exceptions, such as Winant, 2001 and Marable, 2004, authors of the
vast array of commentaries on globalization and even of the more
recent crop of writings about empire treat race only in passing —
if they mention it at all. Such reticence about race applies not
only to advocates of the Washington Consensus of free-market
fundamentalism and to cheerleaders for U. S. empire, but also to
more critical analysts of a variety of persuasions from center to
The end of the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1994 marked the
demise of racial discrimination as explicit state policy, just as
the mid-1960s victories of the civil rights movement in the United
States had marked the end of the Jim Crow system of segregation in
the U. S. south. But the persistence of de facto racial inequality
into the 21st century is pervasive in both nations, as well as
globally. Its relative invisibility in public commentary and
analysis must be considered a fundamental feature of the current
moment requiring explanation.
21st Century Color Lines
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2003) and other analysts, focusing on the
current U. S. racial order, have posited an ideology of “color-blind
racism,” which allows for continuation of racial inequality while
firmly rejecting overt racial distinctions or discrimination. One of
the key components of this ideology is to deny the link between past
and present, so that people regardless of their background are seen
as starting on a level playing field. This assumption fits well with
the companion ideology stressing the virtues of the neutral market,
which all are presumed to approach with similar possibilities of
success. Such an ideology gains credibility from the visible success
of individuals from the subordinate group, which does in the case of
race mark a break with earlier ideologies of rigid discrimination.
With successful individuals in the foreground, and even celebrated
as illustrating diversity, it becomes easier to view continuing
structural inequality as relatively unimportant, or even to dismiss
it altogether. Persistent poverty or other disadvantages can
conveniently be attributed entirely to individual defects, and seen
as unrelated to past or present discrimination.
The dominant ideology thus diverts attention from the structural
bases of persistent and rising inequality. Contrary views are
portrayed as divisive promotion of class warfare or racial
hostility. Meanwhile, progressive forces have failed to forge a
persuasive counter-perspective integrating both race and class that
similarly facilitates united opposition to the dominant order.
Recently Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres have argued that race is
like a miner’s canary, with damage to minority communities signaling
the damaging structural hierarchies permeating the society (Guinier
and Torres, 2002). They further argue that racial mobilization,
combined with openness to wider coalition-building, must be a
fundamental component of progressive action in the United States.
Many others have made similar arguments, while documenting the
persistence of racial inequality, in unemployment, incarceration,
denial of voting rights, and other arenas. Yet it is no secret that
progressive forces have had little success in implementing such
strategies on more than a fragmentary local basis.
Building a progressive U. S. internationalism that acknowledges the
impact of race, both internally and globally, is an even more
intimidating challenge than that on the domestic front. The growing
impact of immigration also makes such issues unavoidable in other
industrialized countries as well. The much-celebrated demonstrations
in Seattle and similar anti-corporate globalization events have been
notable for their failure to make such connections, despite efforts
to do so by many of the activist groups involved (Martinez, 2000).
Despite trans-Atlantic contacts made at the World Conference against
Racism, even for most supporters the U. S. reparations movement
retains an almost exclusive domestic focus, rather than a campaign
situated within the context of damages done to the African continent
as well. Despite overwhelming opposition among Black Americans to
Bush’s war in Iraq, and efforts by groups such as Black Voices for
Peace, the anti-war movement has generally been unable to make
connections with broader opposition to domestic and global
Neither the conceptual nor practical solutions to this impasse are
easy to discern. But surely one prerequisite is for progressive
analysts to acknowledge that W. E. B. Du Bois’s prediction that the
problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line
applies to the new century as well. Such continuity must surely
count among the deep structures still characterizing the world
This is not to deny the significance of recent changes, whether the
shift from a bipolar to a unipolar geostrategic order, the
accelerating velocity of global communication, the triumph
symbolized by Nelson Mandela’s election in 1994, or the
globalization of threats of terrorism and counter-terrorism.
Nevertheless, both the visible and real global hierarchies, whether
measured in terms of economic power and privilege, human security,
or access to effective political rights, show a close correlation
with the order established by the centuries of slavery, conquest,
and colonial rule.
To the extent that the gatherings of the World Social Forum in
Brazil and India do prefigure another possible world vision, it is
still a world in which one continent — Africa — is strikingly
underrepresented. [as of writing of this article in 2005]
Speculation about the rise of new forces to global prominence to
challenge U. S. hegemony center on the advance of Asia, including
China and India as well as Japan. The potential weight of the Asian
continent, with more than half of the estimated world population of
some 6.4 billion, is clearly linked to sheer numbers as well as to
the structure of the world system. But the profound gap between
Africa (some 870 million people) and less populous continents such
as Europe (729 million), North America (509 million) and South
America (367 million) is easily visible in any compilation of
comparative statistics of development, from life expectancy to gross
national product to vulnerability to the AIDS pandemic.
The point here is neither to rehearse such familiar statistics nor
to call for continent-based quotas in reflections about the current
state of the world. Rather, it is to suggest that the Guinier-Torres
analogy of the miner’s canary applies globally as well as in the
United States. Just as it should be inconceivable to address the
past, present, and future of American society without giving central
attention to the role of African American struggles, so analyzing
and addressing the structures of global inequality requires giving
central attention to Africa.
The mechanisms responsible for creating and maintaining such
inequality are not unique to Africa, but their effects are most
starkly visible there. That is why Africa figures prominently on the
agenda of international institutions, from the World Bank to the
panoply of specialized UN agencies. The fact that Africa
nevertheless remains marginal to public debate across the political
spectrum outside the continent is an indicator of the absence of a
global social contract and of the current weakness of movements to
establish a world order based on principles other than market
Within the United States, as Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro
convincingly showed in their landmark book Black Wealth, White
Wealth (1995), inheritance remains a central mechanism in
perpetuating racial inequality, even when there is significant
upward mobility in jobs and income for some. On a global scale, the
common-sense case for the lasting effect on the current global
hierarchy of centuries of primitive accumulation of wealth by
violence is so obvious that it seems incredible that it is not
generally acknowledged, whether or not one argues that there should
be a statute of limitations on responsibility for repairing the
damage. Yet in fact such causal links are commonly dismissed as
irrelevant “ancient history” or simply ignored by policy- makers and
scholars alike. The debate opened up by such classic works as Eric
Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery (1944) and Walter Rodney’s How
Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) has yet to be integrated into
current reflections about globalization and empire.
Certainly there is much that is new about the current moment in
Africa, as elsewhere in the world. The end of the Cold War removed
the primary strategic imperative for outside subsidies to African
re- gimes. The AIDS pandemic, which in the 1980s was largely
confined to central Africa, has swept through much of the continent,
revers- ing previous advances in raising life expectancy. It now
threatens almost every sector of economy and society. Few African
cities now lack multiple internet cafes, and the growth of mobile
phone use is the most rapid anywhere. Although the trend is less
well studied than in the Caribbean or Latin America, the dispersion
of new African immigrants throughout the world has made remittances
a central feature of survival for many African communities and a
major com- ponent of many national economies. Each of these trends,
it could be argued, is a sign of deep structural change as well as a
feature of the current moment.
Nevertheless, continuities with previous periods and reinforcement
of long-established structures are equally striking. As recently
summarized in an article analyzing the causes of increasing world
inequality (Wade, 2004), the statistics on recent inequality trends
are much disputed. Results vary widely with the measures and data
used. But what evidence there is for structural advance in the
global South comes almost entirely from trends in China and India.
At a structural level, despite such blips as a modest increase in U.
S. textile imports from several African countries as a result of
tariff concessions in the U.S.-Africa Growth and Opportunity Act,
the role of African countries in the world economy is still
overwhelmingly that of suppliers of primary commodities, as has been
the case since colonial conquest over a century ago. The dynamics of
world markets are of course different for different commodities
ranging from coffee and cotton to oil and gold. But not even South
Africa has managed to find a sustainable strategy to emulate the
East Asian competitive challenges to the established G-7 economic
Despite multiple shifts in terminology and emphasis, moreover,
neither reformist African governments nor stronger critics of the
Washington Consensus among African activists and scholars have
succeeded in altering the course of the international financial
institutions that have insisted on putting macroeconomic adjustment
and trade liberalization above all else. The World Bank and the IMF
have indeed forfeited any credibility with both African and
international civil society. But alternative agendas for
“sustainable development” and “human development,” despite
endorsement by multilateral agencies, global conferences, and even
dissenting voices within the World Bank, have lost ground to market
fundamentalism in practice.
While the first decades of African independence saw significant
advances in health and education, subsequent decades have instead
seen an overall pattern of decline. Disparities such as these were
and are reinforced not only by economic structures such as commodity
markets and the accumulation of capital controlled by the capitalist
classes of rich countries, but also by continuities of political
influence. The victories of greater autonomy won by anti-colonial
struggles were eroded first by the Cold War and the continued
influence of ex-colonial powers. Regardless of the political
ideology of post-colonial leaders, the model of the colonial state
remained the dominant guide to the exercise of power. And in
response to the economic crises of the 1980s and the 1990s, African
states lost more and more influence to the directing hand of the
World Bank and clubs of creditors/donors.
While contemporary critics of globalization lament the loss of
autonomy of national states, in Africa the empirical evidence for
such an earlier golden age is weak indeed. Whether for the first
wave of independent states in the 1960s, or for those winning power
in the 1970s and 1980s after armed struggles, the period of hope and
popular mobilization was quickly cut short. The entry of a free
South Africa onto the African scene in the last decade has
significantly changed the context for continental cooperation, and
many see the African Union as an arena for both wider public debate
and action on some of the continent’s crises. But whether one
attributes Pretoria’s compromises to pragmatism or to class
interests, it would be difficult to argue that the vision of African
renaissance has won much leverage for Africa in institutions
deciding global policies affecting the continent.
Debates on the causes of this reality, and on how to find a path
ahead that avoids both Afro-pessimism and Afro-optimism, are
complex. But surely it is necessary to go beyond national arenas or
the failure of particular leaders and to include analysis of the
lack of democracy in global institutions that have relatively more
weight in Africa than almost anywhere else in the world. To counter
growing global inequality requires state action on a scale
equivalent to the global mechanisms that reinforce that inequality.
Multilateral institutions dealing with almost every conceivable
issue have in fact proliferated in parallel with economic
globalization. There has also been significant involvement by a
burgeoning “international civil society,” ranging from non-
governmental organizations in the global North to activist groups in
both North and South. The impact at the level of ideas has been
significant. But it is also the case that the more influential the
institution, the more likely its effective governance is effectively
controlled by representatives of rich, predominantly white,
Whether or not one uses the term “global apartheid” (Booker and
Minter, 2001), any short-hand description of the global order at the
dawn of the 21st century must somehow acknowledge the double
standards implicit in an international system of global minority
rule, based on the entrenched assumption that some human lives are
more valuable than others based on the accident of place and race of
birth. The tragedy of 9/11 and the war on Iraq is not only the
direct damage inflicted by those events, but also the
reinforcement given to diversion of attention from the global
holocaust of the AIDS pandemic and parallel threats to human
It would be a mistake to see this tacit acceptance of the differ-
ential value of human life as simply a cultural or ideological
epiphenomenon less worthy of analysis than the “hard” structures of
global political economy, geostrategic competition, or preemptive
militarism. Long-term rationality, even from the point of view of
the more farsighted guardians of global capitalism, may dictate
attention to the range of global crises that have their most severe
impact in Africa (see, for example, the report of the World
Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, at
http://www.ilo.org/public/english/wcsdg). Seemingly race-neutral
goals such as poverty alleviation and other noble objectives may win
approval in conference after conference.
But just as national divisions are not only conceptual but embedded
in laws distinguishing citizens and non-citizens, so the assumptions
of racial and cultural hierarchy are embedded in the political
discourse and practices that reinforce global apartheid.
Making “another world possible” requires analyses and strategies for
political mobilization that do not evade this stubborn legacy from
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2003. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind
Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United
States. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
Booker, Salih, and William Minter. 2001. “Global Apartheid.” The
Nation, July 9.
Guinier, Lani, and Gerald Torres. 2002. The Miner’s Canary:
Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Marable, Manning. 2004 “Globalization and Racialization.” Znet,
Martinez, Elizabeth (Betita). 2000. “Where Was the Color in
Seattle?: Looking for Reasons Why the Great Battle was so White.”
Colorlines, 3:1 (Spring).
Oliver, Melvin L., and Thomas M. Shapiro. 1995. Black Wealth, White
Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. New York: Routledge.
Rodney, Walter. 1972. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London/Dar
es Salaam, Tanzania: Bogle L’Ouverture Publications and Tanzania
Wade, Robert Hunter. 2004. “On the Causes of Increasing World
Inequality, or Why the Matthew Effect Prevails.” New Political
Economy, 8:2 (June).
Williams, Eric. 1944. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill, North
Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.
Winant, Howard. 2001. The World Is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy
Since World War II. New York: Basic Books.
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FROM THE EDITOR (LIVA): This is one of the last interviews given by Aleksey Mozgovoy—the commander of the Prizrak Brigade, who openly asserted that the residents of the Donbass and of Ukraine should act together to end the rule of the “super-rich” capitalists on both sides of the front line. On May 9, 2015, immediately following the festivities in the centre of Alchevsk, he went to one of the districts in this working-class town—to a children’s playground, which his fighters were helping to rebuild. Ukrainian politicians usually turn events like this into PR opportunities. There were, however, no cameras of local journalists or idle gawkers at this playground. Laying aside their firearms, Mozgovoy and fighters from his unit, joined by several communists from Greece and Italy, worked together with shovels and crowbars, installing swings and slides for children and conversing among themselves. They were helped by children from the neighbourhood. Journalists from LIVA took the opportunity to ask Mozgovoy their questions.
These May days in Alchevsk were marked by a unique event—an international anti-fascist forum, which brought together leftist activists from Italy, Greece, England, Germany, Spain, Poland, Turkey, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Among them were members of popular leftist bands—the Turkish Yorum and the Italian Banda Bassotti, as well as journalists from a number of international publications. The authorities in Lugansk refused, at the last moment, to support what, in their opinion, was an overly left-leaning conference; Mozgovoy subsequently undertook to ensure that it could take place in Alchevsk, unafraid of entering into conflict on its behalf. He discussed this openly during his address at the opening of the Forum, on the sidelines of which he actively, without arrogance, engaged with leftist journalists.
The participants of the Forum could witness the kind of work launched in Alchevsk by the Prizrak commander and the communists—political activists of his Brigade: aid to kindergartens and schools, free distribution of medications and food to those in need. They also learned about plans for reconstruction of the war-torn region, the former owners of which had long ago left for Kiev, Moscow or the European Union. In conversations with residents of Alchevsk and Stakhanov, in the streets and at the festivities in honour of Victory Day; by holding concerts, gathering thousands of people, they were able to appreciate the popularity of Mozgovoy among the residents of the city, with whom he would talk frankly and openly. All this was debated in excited discussions, which united activists from Rojava, who spoke about the Kurdish experience in self-governance, Greek and Spanish activists, who argued about the policies of Syriza and Podemos, an organizer of a British trades union, who shared his practical experience, and Italian leftists, who talked about the importance of internet technologies to the development of the left movement, immediately offering to share their skills in a practical way.
Of course, none of this could fail to influence Mozgovoy himself, helping him better to define his own ideas and views, which previously were vague—as inevitably happens with a person with no previous involvement in politics. That is why it is a particular shame that this genuinely vibrant and extraordinary man shortly thereafter tragically died on the outskirts of Alchevsk, killed in an ambush along with his press-secretary and members of his personal guard. The wave of remembrance events that are now taking place not only in the Donbass, but also in many countries of the world, demonstrate the symbolic importance of this individual to so many—precisely because while nationalistic intellectuals stoked the fires of a tribalist civil war in the interests of the capitalists, Aleksey Mozgovoy, a native of the village of Nizhnyaya Duvanka, openly declared the need for a social struggle which could unite Ukrainians in the fight against their true enemy.
LIVA: Aleksey, you have helped to organize an international leftist forum, which was attended by activists of communist, trades union, and student organizations—over a hundred people from ten different countries. It is known that the official authorities of Lugansk, who initially promised to assist in the holding of this forum, ultimately refused to support it. But when the request was made to you following their refusal, you immediately agreed to organize the conference in Alchevsk. What is the importance of this event? It is fairly unusual not only for the warring Donbass—you could say that even in the former USSR there were no such similar leftist forums.
A.M.: I believe that it is important to use this opportunity to talk about what is happening here [in the Donbass] and to secure support from like-minded people from the outside. We understand that the mass media—not only Ukrainian—severely distorts everything. It can be said that the Ukrainian channels never show any truth whatsoever about what is happening here. In Europe, I think the situation is the same. This meeting, this congress, opens the possibility for people who came here—and I stress, they did so of their own volition, because we did not know them before and did not invite them specifically—personally to look at how we live here, what we are doing, and what is going on here in reality. Both in Alchevsk and in the Donbass. Journalists as well.
Yes, there was pressure. But we held the meeting in spite of it. I want to give our guests the opportunity to talk to people, to observe our life, our problems, and our work. That’s how we can learn more about each other. That is why I supported this meeting. We are all free here, and we live in a free land. No one destroys Lenin monuments here, and no one prohibits red flags, the hammer and the sickle.
We are sharing experiences. Learning a lot that is new. Just now we were told about the civil war in Greece—how it was.
LIVA: In May of last year, you said that the oligarchs are the principal enemy of the people of the Donbass and of Ukraine. Has anything changed, or do you continue to stand by this position?
A.M.: Nothing has changed. The oligarchs remain our principal enemy. Not only for us, but also for the residents of Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk. All this time I have wanted to ask them—why do they then fight against the Donbass, and not against these oligarchs?
But we also have another enemy—this is our own, I would say, cluttered consciousness. We cannot lie to ourselves that everything will fix itself and that, suddenly, all will be well. We simply do not have the time for this falsehood. We must accept responsibility and act.
LIVA: Tell us about your social projects. We saw that you help the population: a chain of free food-distribution points has been established, kindergartens and schools have been repaired, salaries for teachers are being paid, at least partially. Now there are also children’s playgrounds.
A.M.: We do what all regular people’s government institutions should do—authorities that do not hide from the people, do not lie to them, do not spit at them. We help the poor and the disadvantaged, we try to reach everyone who needs assistance in these difficult wartime conditions. Assistance for kindergartens and schools is the foremost task in any situation. They have to operate—even war should not be an obstacle to children learning. We simply help to ensure that the schools are open, that children can attend classes, and teachers—that they can work as they have always done. Without this, there is no future.
And the children’s playgrounds… We must build them so that we do not have to dig trenches in the future. I believe that more attention must be devoted to the upbringing of the youth—to make sure that these kids are not educated by the television, along with the Praviy Sektor, but nurtured by us. We believe that new youth sports-clubs should be created, and have already organized a soccer club SKA Prizrak. Boys play there along with Militia fighters and communicate. Not many take the time to engage these lads: what this led to, we can all see now in Ukraine.
LIVA: But how can you ensure that social policies are implemented in these wartime conditions?
A.M.: This is not an easy task. For example, we tried to organize agriculture, our own “kolkhoz” [a collective farm –ed.]—in order to feed Alchevsk with our own food and not to depend on anyone in that regard. This is beginning to help our situation. Four free canteens accommodate about seven thousand needy citizens—you have seen it all, you have been able to talk to those who eat there. But this is just the beginning.
LIVA: The anti-fascist forum, the Jubilee anniversary of the Victory over Nazism. What does anti-fascism mean for you?
A.M.: It is a struggle against the enslavement of our people. Everyone was able once again to witness how quickly fascism and the very same oligarchs come to an agreement. Whether it is Krupp or Kolomoiskiy. An oligarchy was built in the country, and fascism inevitably followed. That is how it was, and how it will be again. Victory Day is necessary not just for parades, but to make sure that we never forget this. Many thought that this evil will never be reborn. After all, so much time had passed since the war. No. Again they crawled out.
LIVA: What about the Banda Bassotti concert? Did you like it?
A.M.: I heard very familiar Soviet-era songs. I heard songs from Italian partisans. But, in general, you must have seen yourself how many residents of Alchevsk came to the concert, and how they cheered this music. The holiday for the town was a success.
Published time: May 30, 2015 12:29
Most Americans have never heard about the dirtiest secret on Capitol Hill: The Democrat and Republican parties have achieved an iron grip on the reins of power, obstructing any third-party contenders from challenging their authority. This is more of a literal statement than many realize. Third-party ‘factions’ are being denied participation in the presidential debates in order to protect the Establishment’s cozy and very lucrative relationship with corporate power.
How this state of affairs came about is nothing short of astonishing – and not a little treacherous.
America’s bloodless coup d’état of 1987
A funny thing happened on the road to the 1988 presidential campaign between Republican George H.W. Bush and his Democrat challenger Michael Dukakis. Representatives from both campaign camps secretly hatched a “memorandum of understanding” – which was more of a ransom letter – designed to overhaul the rules of the political road.
The new changes put forward by the establishment would determine which candidates could participate in the presidential debates (namely the Democrats and Republicans), which media organizations could attend (only those that could be trusted) and who would serve as debate panelists (thereby controlling the questions).
There was just one problem with this rare display of bipartisan camaraderie on the part of the Democrats and Republicans: the function of setting down the rules and regulations of the presidential debates (surprise!) was not and never meant to be the job of the political contenders. Since 1976, the sole responsibility of organizing the debates had been relegated to the League of Women Voters. And until 1987, they were doing a great job – probably too well.
So imagine the wrath, the very feminine fury, the ladies felt as they were duly delivered a list of demands by the Democrats and Republicans as to how the debates would be organized in the future. Although it would have been one hell of a spectacle had the League put their heels down and declared the elections suspended until the Asses and Elephants backed off, sadly that did not happen. Instead, the ladies politely spewed some harmless venom at the ponderous predators before excusing themselves altogether from the sanitized, dumbed down political reality show.
League President Nancy M. Neuman issued a powerful farewell statement that should have rattled the US electorate to the very bone: “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.”
Neuman continued with a degree of candor not commonly found in the halls of power these days. She urged Bush and Dukakis to “rise above your handlers and agree to join us in presenting the fair and full discussion the American public expects of a League of Women Voters debate.
“The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
Connie Rice, a civil rights lawyer and commentator on National Public Radio, said the Democrats and Republicans “hijacked” the debates.
American consumers responded with a collective shrug and a yawn as it switched to the shopping channel with its remote – the last shred of control it seems to enjoy these days.
Since any silence from the electorate is immediately interpreted by politicians as consent, what followed was the hideous transformation of the US political system, now plagued by a disturbing level of nepotism and elitism. Suffice it to say that US babbling heads are still breathlessly wondering whether yet another Bush or Clinton will inherit the throne on Pennsylvania Avenue.
So after the League of Women Voters politely excused themselves from participating in the game of thrones, a brand new organization rose up from the cigarette butts, deflated balloons and empty beer cups. Today, US presidential debates are owned lock, stock and barrel by an officious, priggish gang of Beltway thugs that unabashedly calls itself the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a nonprofit corporation that funds the debates through private contributions from foundations and corporations.
George Farah, author of the book, “No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates,” explained the obvious rationale behind Washington’s desire to seize control of the debate process.
“It seized control of the presidential debates precisely because the League was independent, precisely because this women’s organization had the guts to stand up to the candidates that the major-party candidates had nominated,” Farah said.
On February 19, 1987, the New York Times ran an obituary of sorts regarding the bloodless coup d’état, touting the new organization that would waltz over the corpse of the League. In that article, Paul G. Kirk Jr., the Democratic national chairman, and Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., the Republican national chairman, happily agreed that the new arrangement would ”institutionalize’‘ the debates and strengthen the role of the political parties in the electoral process.
That’s right folks, strengthening the role of the two political parties in the electoral process is exactly what America’s Founders would have wanted since limiting the playing field to exactly two power-snorting junkies has everything to do with the spirit of Democracy.
Kirk Jr. underscored the situation regarding America’s newly-razed political landscape, saying he personally believed the CPD “should exclude third-party candidates from the debates.”
Ralph Nader, politician and social activist, argued that the CPD had created a virtual two-party dictatorship in the ‘land of the free.’
“The two parties created the debate commission. It’s a private company. And they have set the rules,” Nader told the Center for Public Integrity. “So if they shut you out of the national presidential debates, there is no way…of reaching people — just no way. So it’s a two-party elected dictatorship.”
Nader has certainly not been the only victim of the CPD death grip on the US political system. In the 1996 elections, Republican Bob Dole and President Bill Clinton, with the connivance of the CPD, had managed to keep billionaire Ross Perot out of the debates, even though a huge number of voters (18 percent) said they wanted the self-made billionaire’s opinions heard.
Corporate McFascists destroying the America Dream
The US Capitol is presently under siege by an army of corporate lobbyists, armed to the teeth with unlimited funds to lure legislators away from their primary obligation, which is representing American citizens, not corporate interests.
Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, once offered his recommendations for fixing the US political system when he advised – only half-jokingly – that any politician running for office should be required to wear a NASCAR racing suit – complete with the decals of their corporate sponsors – so the American people will know “who’s bought them.”
Ventura’s joke contained more truth than anybody on Capitol Hill is willing to admit.
Never before in American history (or any history, for that matter) has money spoken louder among the so-called representatives of the people. And since the mega-corporations have most of the money, it is the corporations that are getting the lion’s share of political representation. This is not the way things were supposed to work.
The US Supreme Court deserves a healthy part of the blame for America’s political meltdown. In 2010, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates on corporate campaign spending in Citizens United vs. FEC (2010). This devastating ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of cash – much of it courtesy of consumer spending, incidentally – in Democratic and Republican campaign coffers without the benefit of public transparency.
The New York Times decried the Citizens ruling in an editorial: “The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.”
Citizen United led to the rise of so-called Super PACS, independent action committees that are empowered to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions and individuals (some readers may be tempted to argue that the inclusion of labor unions among Super PACS would work to balance the political scales; this is patently false because unions now represent less than eight percent of the US workforce – down from about 36 percent in the 1970s).
The PACS then spend their vast sums of money secretly advocating for or against political candidates. This is what the brave new world of American politics refers to as the ‘freedom of speech.’
As of January 19, 2015, 1,291 Super PACs reported total receipts of $688,826,115 and total independent expenditures of $344,172,141 in the 2014 campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Most disturbing, Super PACS receive their vast funding from just a handful of insanely wealthy donors, which points to the dangerous narrowing of the American political franchise. Yet what government commission could/would smash this monopoly?
Trevor Potter, a former FEC chairman, summed up the situation when he said that corporations have just one reason for throwing their support behind a particular party or candidate, and that is to “maximize their profits,” he told the Atlantic.
It remains highly doubtful that America’s experiment in democracy can succeed much longer based on such mercantile considerations.
The problem is that what America is coming close to inheriting is nothing short of fascism, albeit a fuzzy form of fascism unique in world history.
Is America approaching Fascism?
Of course, what we now have in the United States is not (yet) comparable to a Mussolini-style of fascism, complete with a megalomaniac inciting the masses from a bully pulpit and jackboot black shirts throttling dissenters on the street. Or have we become so saturated and dumbed-down by the sugar-coated reality of American life, the “air-conditioned nightmare” of unlimited consumer choice and hardcore commercialism, that we are no longer able to perceive the death of democracy in our midst?
For a country that offers its hapless consumers 1,000 brands of everything from automobiles to breakfast cereals to fast food franchises, isn’t it odd that the choice that really matters – political choice – has gone missing from America’s shelves?
This ridiculous paucity of choice, where the last two political parties are showing remarkable similarities (not least of all as to their corporate paymasters), threatens to open the door to the worst possible scenarios in the world of politics: The dirty ‘F’ word.
The historian Alan Ryan once set forth the standard features of fascism, which included “mass mobilization through a political party that held a monopoly of power, the cult of leadership, the destruction of all intermediate and nonstate organizations, such as trade unions, and their replacement by politicized parodies, the abolition of privacy so that the family provided no safe haven against the state, and the replacement of the rule of law by arbitrary violence and a regime based on terror.”
Nothing remotely in common with America, circa 2015, you say? Well, it’s only necessary to consider the two-party political charade in Washington, the death of nonstate players such as the trade unions, the privacy-destroying PATRIOT ACT, and the militarization of our local and state police forces, that comes not only with the equipment but the military tactics and mindset to boot.
Meanwhile…at the same time that Corporate America is stuffing the campaign war chests of US politicians, guaranteeing their servile complaisance down the road, American CEOs are awarding themselves outrageous salaries at the expense of everybody else. Where is all of this extra cash coming from that allows corporations to flood the political system and their own pockets?
Thomas Piketty, author of the best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, gave some clue when he revealed that around two-thirds of the increase in US income inequality over the last four decades can be attributed to a massive rise in “super salaries” among America’s top executives.
In 1960, the top 10 percent of wage earners in the US accounted for 33.5 percent of all income, according to data in Piketty’s book. By 2010, however, that share had exploded to 47.9 percent. Meanwhile, Congress has shown no willingness to increase the tax rate on the super-wealthy anytime soon, not help labor unions get back on their feet.
Separately, the above phenomenon might be cause for alarm. Taken together, however, and they could herald in a very dark period for the American empire.
Noam Chomsky, the social critic and intellectual, suggested as much in 2010 with some rather shocking comments.
“I’m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitler’s speeches on the radio,” he was quoted by the Progressive as saying. “I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here at home.
“The level of anger and fear is like nothing I can compare in my lifetime,” he said.
Before the American experiment in democracy turns into a bad laboratory accident, it would be wise to consider such dire warnings and move to bring average Americans – and third party contenders – back into the American political franchise
Robert Bridge is the author of the book, Midnight in the American Empire, which discusses the dangerous consequences of extreme corporate power in a democratic state.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.