by BAR contributor Danny Haiphong
The class conflict remains the central contradiction among human beings – a fact that too many “movement” leaders seem eager to forget. As a result, they attempt to shore up “a crumbling imperialist system and the ideas that sustain it.” The longer this system is allowed to prevail, the worse the human condition becomes. “By 2021, only 1 percent of the population will own 70 percent of all wealth in the US.”
Their System, Our Lives: A Political Obituary in Service of Revolutionary Emancipation
by BAR contributor Danny Haiphong
“The desperate need for organization among the various exploited and oppressed sectors of society, from the unemployed worker to the incarcerated Black prisoner, cannot be understated.”
There are times when personal life intersects with the broad struggle of the masses in profound ways. The majority of people find it far easier to separate the struggle for emancipation from day to day life as a form of protection. Not only is such an action futile, but it also reinforces alienation. Alienation is a staple of imperialist social relations predicated upon the separation of labor from the ownership of the means of subsistence and production. Yet it is precisely when this phenomenon is experienced on a mass basis that the conditions for revolutionary emancipation become ripe. The dialectic reaches an even more acute stage after losing a loved one due to the conditions of the ruling system.
The US imperialist system is sustained by the profit driven interests of a small number of capitalists who wield the means of production in their interests. Capitalists own the means of production and force the working class and oppressed majority to sell their labor to them or perish. The drive for endless profit on the part of the capitalist produces endless misery. The Boston Consulting Group reports that by 2021, only 1 percent of the population will own 70 percent of all wealth in the US. A US-led war on Syria continues to bring the world on the brink of World War III in the aftermath of the US coalition’s takedown of a Syrian jet. AP reports that the US remains a torture overseer in the Southern parts of Yemen. Black Americans in the US are the target of a ceaseless war of occupation waged by the state, with the recent acquittal of the police officer that murdered Philando Castile only adding insult to an almost daily injury,
“The drive for endless profit on the part of the capitalist produces endless misery.”
These conditions have been subject to resistance on a mass basis. The movement for Black Lives sits at the forefront of resistance to state terror against Black America. On the international stage, Houthi rebels and independent governments in Syria, Iran, China, and Russia make up just some of the forces fighting against US and Western imperialist aggression worldwide. Many debased "liberal" thinkers promote the notion that the struggle for justice cannot be reduced to an "us vs. them" dichotomy. However, such narrow thinking is contradicted by the ways in which the conditions of imperialism pits the very lives of millions, if not billions, of ordinary workers and oppressed people in an antagonistic relationship with the ruling elite.
My late father is a quintessential example. A working class white American born three years after the Second World War, my father spent his entire life fighting for the needs of his family and loved ones. His mother struggled with addiction and his father worked long hours as a machinist during the Depression era. My father spent much of childhood with his sister and his dog trying to survive rural New Hampshire life. Before he had a family of his own, my father joined the military only to be deployed to Vietnam in the waning years of the Johnson Administration. This would give him preferential treatment for hiring in the public sector. He moved to Massachusetts shortly after his military stint to work as an agricultural inspector for the US government.
“Imperialism pits the very lives of millions, if not billions, of ordinary workers and oppressed people in an antagonistic relationship with the ruling elite.”
Like his father, my father worked grueling hours as a federal worker in the Department of Agriculture. The long hours (sometimes upwards of 70 hours per week) helped pay a mortgage that had to be refinanced multiple times so his children could attend college. He worked so much in part because of his loyalty to my mother, a Vietnamese woman whose mental instability led her to spend all of his savings and accumulate massive amounts of debt. The impact of Agent Orange on my mother’s decision has yet to be medically determined. However, symptoms of the toxin are evident across her side of the family.
My father’s care-taking role in marriage took a toll on his mind while his job took a toll on his body. A solid union kept him economically afloat, but it was not enough to keep his children safe from economic hardship after thirty-eight years of employment. No documented evidence exists to link these conditions with the heart attack that took his life just a few weeks ago. The illness happened to run on his side of the family. However, the many ills of capitalism definitely played a part in the process. This is the lens from which I view my father’s struggle. The experience helped guide me toward the path of revolutionary political thought and action. There may be no more important of a task in the United States than to unite the oppressed and exploited along the lines of common experience. Common experience helps create a guide that informs political activity. Solidarity is the strongest weapon in the arsenal of the oppressed. However, it has gone largely untapped because the oppressed have yet to meet a movement armed with the correct ideology to channel their experiences into action.
“The energy emanated from a fracture in the Democratic Party left and Republican right that allowed genuine demands for living-wage employment, affordable healthcare, and accessible education to seep into the debate in Washington.”
The 2016 elections put the backwardness of the US political situation on full display. Working people of various stripes took interest in the Sanders/Trump phenomenon. The energy emanated from a fracture in the Democratic Party left and Republican right that allowed genuine demands for living-wage employment, affordable healthcare, and accessible education to seep into the debate in Washington. My father, a staunch Democrat, supported Sanders but couldn't quite grasp the significance of his pro-imperialist policies. His military deployment to Vietnam comprised much of his early education about foreign affairs, even if he did begin to develop significant anti-war sentiments later in his life during the Bush II years.
Many leftists were too busy getting sucked into the corporate media's obsession with Donald Trump or Russia to muster a strong enough movement that could reach people like my father. The Black Lives Matter movement and the Sanders base have received little support as a result. As if selling your labor to a capitalist society rife with permanent unemployment, war, and racism wasn't alienating enough, millions of working class and oppressed people also have the US and Western left to contend with. It isn't just the elite’s lack of political engagement with the legitimate conditions of the oppressed that holds US politics in a backward state. This is intentional and should be expected. The bigger problem is that far too many "movement leaders" themselves are actively devoted to the preservation of a crumbling imperialist system and the ideas that sustain it.
“There may be no more important of a task in the United States than to unite the oppressed and exploited along the lines of common experience.”
To reverse this trend, revolutionaries need to walk the difficult line of learning from the people and teaching them new ways to conceptualize a reality kept in perpetual fog by the ruling classes and their allies in the “movement.” They must study history and theory with the intention of applying it to the challenges of the current moment. Assumptions should be dropped at a moment's notice, but well-tested conclusions should be upheld without waver. The desperate need for organization among the various exploited and oppressed sectors of society, from the unemployed worker to the incarcerated Black prisoner, cannot be understated. Anything that supports the organization of the masses toward their genuine interests should be pursued. And anything that holds back their political development should be rejected, regardless of the perceived short-term political cost.
A good start would be for revolutionaries to work toward a total rejection of old, ruling class ideas that fester among the advanced thinkers and organizers in the US and Western world. Trusted relationships with the masses are dependent upon the presentation of new ideas that demonstrate both a grasp of existing reality and the willingness to change it. Revolutionary emancipation becomes that much more remote when relationships with the masses are soiled by dogma. Endless war, economic atrophy, and the relentless violence of racism will continue to resign millions to an early grave by way of the bomb or the imposition of economic deprivation. However remote it may seem, a way out does exist. And it is our duty to find it.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area.Hecanbereachedatwakeupriseup1990@gmail.com