“City councils across the country have claimed to accept the basic premise that police are afforded too many immunities and too large a share of the public budget.”
This year’s protests made their most dramatic impact on public perceptions, with 61 percent of white people telling New York Times pollsters they now hold favorable views of “the Black Lives Matter Movement.” Statistically, these pro-BLM whites must include a significant number of Trump supporters, who make up more than half of U.S. whites. As BAR reported last week, the Times poll shows 70 percent of whites under the age of 45 and 85 percent of Blacks of all ages agree that “the killing of George Floyd was part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African-Americans rather than an isolated incident.”
“This time the people have their own ideas about the nature of the crises that are roiling their lives.”
Clearly, as the old song goes, “Something’s happening here…” The public appears to internalize the killer cop crisis as part of a general disfunction of a U.S. state that has utterly failed to protect its population from contagious disease and has no plan to save the people from a second Great Depression. For the first time, (slim) majorities of whites finally seem able to wrap their minds around the fact that Blacks suffer disproportionately from all of these governmental failures – or intentional outcomes.
Which brings us to another marked difference between the current era and the aftermath of Black agitation and rebellions in 1967-68. When cities burned and Black Panthers called for community control of the police half a century ago, both corporate parties and the vast bulk of the white public supported the swift and brutal imposition of a mass Black incarceration regime that would increase the U.S. prison and jail population 12-fold over the next two generations. Yet, despite President Trump’s efforts to whip up a racist fury over the “riots” that punctuated last month’s George Floyd protests, there is not yet a discernable white backlash outside the confines of the White Man’s (Republican) Party, whose organizing principle is white supremacy. If this trend holds, we are witnessing the first Black challenge to white supremacy that does not set off a general white backlash across the United States. It is a “crack in time” that I believe is the result of the general Crisis of Legitimacy afflicting the U.S. ruling order. Americans, including large numbers of whites, no longer see the government as either responsive or competent. Thus, many whites – especially the younger cohorts – don’t trust anything anymore, including their own prejudices. World views come apart and the urgency of now becomes primary.
“If this trend holds, we are witnessing the first Black challenge to white supremacy that does not set off a general white backlash across the United States.”
For young African Americans, the Black Radical Tradition is reinvigorated after a two-generations-long sleep. But that Tradition does not include any memories of sustained victory over the ruling corporate order, a significant sector of which was a tacit ally of the 1950s and 60s movement against official American apartheid because it impeded the free flow of capital and delayed the creation of a truly global capitalist order. In place of Black power (self-determination), the rulers offer “diversity” and – when confronted by hundreds of thousands of George Floyd protesters in the streets — a kinder, gentler system of property and privilege protection.
The last thing the Black Misleadership Class wants is a Black power-seeking movement. Wedded as they are to a token “place” in the capitalist spoils system, these misleaders have shown remarkable loyalty to their bosses in the Democratic Party and, until recently, to the police that kills their constituents at will. Despite decades of Black grassroots warnings against the growing militarization of the U.S. police, in 2014 the Congressional Black Caucus voted 32 to 8 to continue the infamous Pentagon 1033 program that funneled billions of dollars in weapons and gear to local police departments. (A program that increased 24-fold under the First Black President, Barack Obama.) The “Black Lives Matter” movement was born only months later but had virtually no effect on the Black Caucus’s slavish politics. Four years later, 75 percent of Black House members shamelessly supported the Protect and Serve Act of 2018, which elevated cops to a “protected class” and made an assault on police – the offense you are charged with when the police kick your butt – a federal “hate” crime. It was as if Michael Brown had never died at police hands in Ferguson, and Baltimore and other cities had not exploded in revolt. The Black Misleadership Class was impervious to pressures from within the Black community and responsive only to its handlers in the Democratic Party.
“The last thing the Black Misleadership Class wants is a Black power-seeking movement.”
The sweeping scope, gargantuan size, and multi-racial makeup of the George Floyd protests clearly rattled the Black Caucus’s boss lady, Nancy Pelosi, who instructed her cop-loving Black lackies to break out the kente cloth and array themselves around her on the Capitol kneeling grounds. However, nothing they offered in the wake of the “Black Lives Matter” protests defunds the police or puts them on the path to abolition. None of the “reforms” change the essential nature of police as an occupation army in the Black community, as they were described half a century ago. There is no Black Power, or any kind of People Power, in the House Democrats’ bill of concessions to mass protest. And, despite some initial panic among the local political guardians of the corporate oligarchy, city and county governments will not allow power to devolve to people’s direct control — over the police, schools, social services or anything else of importance – without a Demand based on a People’s Power Plan.
Cuts in police budgets may rightly count as victories for the protesters that demanded cuts (or, it may actually be the result of across-the-board cutbacks due to collapse of tax revenues in the Great Depression Two). But diminished budgets do not make the police accountable to the people or allow the people to reinvent policing (or whatever folks choose to call the mechanisms of their security). Transfer of duties previously (mis)handled by cops to more competent agencies is a good thing, but will not result in People’s Power unless those agencies are brought under community control, along with the police.
“There is no Black Power, or any kind of People Power, in the House Democrats’ bill of concessions to mass protest.”
Building People’s Power is hard work – more difficult, in many ways than confronting the enemy’s uniformed goons in the streets. But this is the vital arena of struggle under late-stage capitalism when the “system” is not only objectively failing, but the people know it is coming apart at the seams.
“Reforms” that leave power in the hands of the oppressor and his flunkies succeed mainly in making the enemy look good. It buys the oppressor more time to harm the people – which is what the Democrats were seeking when they adopted the vocabulary of protest and embraced “reforms” they had previously rejected in the face of a Black-led popular insurgency. Movement organizers must avoid providing opportunities for scoundrels, sell-out artists, and Democratic Party operatives to pose as friends of “the community.” The lasting victories are those that result in weakening the oppressor and empowering the people. Remember the words of Amilcar Cabral: “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.”
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Even Democrats worry about what Stephanie Kelton calls, “The Debt Myth.” During the Democratic presidential race, most candidates proclaimed their opposition to deficit spending. They would endorse broadening medical coverage for example but castigate Medicare for All advocacy by asking: “How do we pay for it?” (Of course, this question never gets raised when Presidents launch wars). And the population at large has been raised from the cradle to believe that debt has very precise limits. We, as individuals, can charge items we purchase but we need to be concerned about the accumulation of too much charge card debt. And, the theory suggests, the same principle applies to all governments. One illustration of this view was expressed by Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University, and former Indiana governor. He called the national debt, the “new Red Menace” in a National Review article (Jay Nordlinger, December 5, 2019)
It Is Time To Examine Alternatives To The Debt Myth
During the last several years, newer generations of economists have begun to question the proposition that federal debt constitutes a fundamental threat to the survival of the US economy and polity. For example, Stephanie Kelton, a Professor of Economics at the University of Stonybrook, builds on the emerging tradition of “modern monetary theory” (MMT). (The Debt Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy, Public Affairs, 2020).
Professor Kelton discusses four key elements of MMT.
- First, using the household budget as a metaphor for governmental budgeting is inappropriate. Family debt can be incurred but overtime must be repaid. In the twenty-first century, many households and individuals can charge goods and services they purchase but the expenditures have to be paid for in relatively short order. Politicians of both parties then argue by analogy that government expenditures have to be repaid. Therefore, short-term deficits should be avoided or repaid in subsequent national budgets. Of course, these strictures are not adhered to even by the most fiscally conservative politicians. They give blank checks to the military and they support pork-barrel legislation advantageous to their favorite lobbyists and districts. And, of course, these same politicians who oppose deficit spending are the first to endorse massive tax cuts for the rich.
Second, Professor Kelton argues, however, that while some spending might be irresponsible, sovereign governments are not analogous to the household or individual spenders. This raises the issue of sovereignty. Max Weber pointed out over one hundred years ago that states hold a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Modern Monetary Theorists argue that nation-states also have a monopoly on the issuing of money. States can print as much money as is needed by the economy. Contrary to individuals and families, who are not sovereign, governments do not have to repay themselves.
Third, therefore, sovereign governments can use their capacity to print money to support projects that promote the general health and welfare of society. They do not have to accept the myth that the debt will somehow punish future generations, create chaos, and destroy the normal course of social and political interactions.
Fourth, the deficit hawks warn that the printing of money could have negative consequences, the most often discussed is uncontrollable inflation. That is, with the printing of more and more money, the price of goods and services could skyrocket. Professor Kelton and others have referred to historical examples of unbridled inflation that destabilized economies and societies, what President Daniels called “the failed regimes of history.” Although Kelton argues that inflationary spirals can occur, and have historically occurred, it has been because too much money chased too few goods and services. In other words, if citizens/consumers acquire more money while the production of goods and services stagnate, the price of those commodities can rise to dangerous levels. What this suggests to MMT is that the printing of money should be proportional to societal needs, the availability of goods and services, and the employment of workers.
In sum, MMT suggests that the printing of money can be calibrated to the fulfillment of short and long term needs. Money could and should be provided for health care for all, support for education (K through university), structural renovation, transitioning away from fossil fuels, the creation of jobs for all and universal basic income programs, and support for a Green New Deal. These programs were vitally needed before the pandemic and are even more essential since its onset. Of course, cutting military spending, pork-barrel legislation, and creating a progressive tax system helps. But the human needs articulated by progressives should be defended. And doing so requires a realistic assessment of the causes and consequences of the national debt. History has shown that the idea of “the debt” has been an ideological tool used to challenge the creation of a just society.
Returning to the campus town political economy example during the pandemic, funds should be made available to keep universities alive, provide for the continued jobs and incomes of campus workers, and for support for small businesses in campus towns. Providing for the economic necessities in local settings could be replicated in the national economy as well; both to maintain the economic life of the population and to enhance social and economic justice. And, of course, programs to enhance social and economic justice were needed even before the pandemic occurred.