Excessive gun violence and mass shootings have become the norm in the US, so has the trite and totally ineffective response of offering “our thoughts and prayers” by the governing political elite. There were about 252 mass shootings in the first 215 days of 2019. About 35% of mass shooters are young white men with prior training in how to use guns — often learned as high school participants in JROTC programs. Shouldn’t facts such as these tell us that there is something deeper than just a problem of easy access to guns and some “crazy” individuals shooting people? The supporters of a gun culture want us to talk about mental illness, offer more thoughts and prayers, and even have more people armed to fight off others with guns who wish the rest of us harm. Some even think the gun culture is tightly intertwined with the spirit of rugged individualism and argue that weakening the former will mean altering that dynamic character of the US culture which has made it an “exceptional” nation. But not every person with mental illness drives 10 hours to El Paso to kill non-whites at a store. There may be personality disorder issues in some cases but not mental illness in every case.
No, we don’t have a sporadic individual mental illness problem, rather, we have a national problem — and one with deep historical and institutional roots. The excessive gun violence in the US is indicative of a society afflicted by multiple unattended or unresolved problems. Here is a laundry list of some of them: racism, xenophobia, pervasive militarism accompanied by the glorification of violence, misogyny, toxic forms of masculinity, grave socioeconomic inequalities, increasing precariousness, the substitution of crass forms of consumerism for the loss of meaning, dignity, and agency in the political and economic domains of life, and the growth of neo-authoritarian tendencies in politics and culture.
No such list is complete without mentioning two other aggravating circumstances that warrant our special attention. We are referring to the unwillingness of the nation’s ideological institutions to come to terms with the history of (a) genocide against the native American populations and the kidnapping and enslavement of the Africans, both intimately tied to the origins of the 2nd Amendment, and (b) colonialism and neocolonialism in relation to the nations of the Global South. Unless the nation confronts the nefarious legacies of the native genocide, racial apartheid and terrorism, and the brutal realities of imperialism (past and present), we cannot see how we could begin to effectively address the problem of deadly violence afflicting the north American society. In sum, we focus on individual behavior and ignore the above historical and institutional factors at our own peril.
Another September Labor Day in the US came and went with the usual smell and sight of hot dogs, burgers, merchandise sales, and so on. But that was not always the case. On this day working people were supposed to enjoy picnics AND engage in labor marches demanding improvements in the condition of work. What is more, there is an alternative Labor Day left out of the dominant US political culture, i.e. May Day. The latter is the holiday for radical labor activism. The powers-that-be, of course, fear radical labor activism. So, back in 1894, President Grover Cleveland favored the September holiday over the May one. He thus begun this federal holiday (for federal workers only) hoping to distract attention from May Day’s radical history and activism. If we would like to build a humane and just society, we must return to those radical traditions of struggle by working people that have been so thoroughly and deliberately ignored by the commercial media and the governing elite.
The politics of cloaking empire is alive and well as once more the nation remembered the 9/11 terror attacks in the US and as the commercial media failed again to remind north Americans that there are indeed two tales of two 9/11s, one in the US and the other in Chile. Amnesia serves empire well.
The US 9/11 occurred in 2001. Suicide pilots flew jets into the WTC buildings in New York City and the Pentagon killing thousands. President George W Bush bombed and invaded Afghanistan killing tens of thousands, then proceeded to Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands more, and curtailed civil liberties and advanced a rightist, pro-corporate, agenda at home. Estimates are that since 2001 the US has waged wars in 15 to 22 countries.
The 18th anniversary of the US 9/11 was also the 46th anniversary of Chile’s 9/11 — a far more devastating one for Chileans. On September 11 of 1973, Nixon’s CIA toppled the elected government of Salvador Allende with the goal of controlling the Chilean copper. A pro-corporate, violent, and far right, coup leader, Gen. Pinochet, took power with the US backing. The General killed, disappeared, and tortured thousands of Chileans and presided over the most extreme capitalist makeover known as “shock therapy” egged on by the likes of Milton Friedman, the US guru of “free market” capitalism.
The long silence about such imperial crimes tells us quite a lot about the subservient nature of the managerial class in the US to power. This is abundantly clear, for example, as no establishment politician dares to expose the nature of US foreign policy and as the corporate media do their utmost to hide the fact of empire from north Americans. The corporate media are after all corporate, that is, they are a part of large corporate conglomerates. In this sense, they are not just subservient to power but are themselves constitutive of it; they are not the “Fourth Estate” — as often claimed — but are “for the state” in service to empire and class power.
Take the first two Democratic primary debates. Only 17 minutes of a total of more than five-and-a-half hours of debate time was given to the subject of US foreign policy. Not that more time allotted to the subject would mean exposing the US imperial machinations. Nevertheless, and predictably, neither the politicians nor the commercial media want to talk about the rule of the globalizing US oligarchs. Regularly missing from the debates are such topics as the reasons for the presence of 800+ US military bases all over the world, the continuing US bombing of several countries, the US special ops operations in 128 countries, the illegal US regime change operations, the imposition of brutal US sanctions on so many nations causing mass suffering, the US support for the brutal apartheid Israel’s settler colonial policies, the US strategic alliance with the murderous and petro-feudal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the colossal ecological cost of militarism and war, the massive drain on resources by the gigantic military budget, and the dreadful plight of the real whistleblowers who have exposed crimes of the state.
If we desire ever to see an honest form of politics emerge that’s capable of telling elementary truths about how the world works and the role played in it by the US, we must mobilize powerful social movements to demand a just foreign policy and refuse to limit the scope of our politics and vision to the domestic side of it only. In fact, failing to do so will mean the end of any possibility for realizing even mildly reformist policies a la a Bernie Sanders, even if he wins the presidency. As noted, US militarism and imperial policies eat up much of the available resources thereby leaving very little for any reformist adjustments to the status quo at home. This aside from the fact that not challenging militarism at home and abroad spells doom for the environment and will render any Green New Deal a wholly inadequate response to the ecological challenges facing the planet. The US is an empire and any politics of resistance and liberation must challenge that fact.
Staggering inequalities mark the performance of late capitalism in the US. During the period from 1978 to 2018, CEO compensation increased by 940.9%, the stock market (S&P 500) by 542.9%, the wages of the top 0.1% by 320.5% all the while the wages of the average workers increased by merely 12%. Had the inequality levels remained the same as they were in the late 1970s, the wages of the bottom 90% would have been double what it is today. Let’s consider the latter fact when debating whether the federal minimum wage should be increased to $15 an hour and whether the US should adopt a living wage policy for its working population..
We mention with great sadness the death of our friend and colleague, Martin Boksenbaum. Martin lost his battle with leukemia in the morning of August 7 at the age of 80. He was a pillar of the Beyond Capitalism Working Group from its outset in 2012 until his deteriorating health prevented him from continuing. In late 2017, he suggested we study the history of the Black Panthers and out of that came the idea of a publication by means of which we could reach out to the community and make connections. Martin contributed to every aspect of producing Left Turn, the BCWG’s publication. He lived to see the third issue of Left Turn come out a few days before his passing.
Martin lived a committed life, untiringly engaging with many projects and a variety of community activities in addition to those mentioned above. In a 2017 note to himself in which he set out personal goals while contemplating “Quality of Life” matters, he wrote: “To be known for my integrity, intelligence, collaborative spirit and work, creativity, and caring, nurturing nature.” That is Martin in a nutshell as viewed by those who were fortunate enough to have their lives affected by his presence. It is heartening to see so many who had accompanied him in activism and community building continue to carry out his legacy of affection for all life, deep respect for the integrity of this beautiful planet, and struggle to bring about a saner world than the one we inhabit presently. We remember Martin with great affection and have reprinted in this issue a remembrance written by our friend and his, Nancy Tate of LEPOCO, the Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern, a longtime peace and justice organization in the Lehigh Valley. We miss you Martin.