Universal equality has always run counter to the United States’ anti-Black and settler colonial roots.
“The ruling class has no interest in delivering any aspect of AOC’s program.”
These remarks were presented at the Political Theology Network Conference’s Panel, “Strategies for Anti-War Activism, Journalism, and Organizing," in New York City.
Communists define political theology as a peoples’ struggle against the ideological hegemony of the ruling class. The U.S. ruling class worships at the alter of endless austerity and war. Common sense under the dictates of U.S. empire sanctifies narratives of American exceptionalism and demonizes any challenge to corporate power. Ruling institutions in the U.S. ideologically condition workers and oppressed people to worship at the very same alter as the rulers who rob, imprison, and force them into an alienated existence. Capitalist property owners and their hirelings in Washington have complete control and influence over the so-called “mass media,” which is nothing but a profit-driven enterprise that regurgitates the so-called common sense of the ruling elites. The same could be said about the university system and the education system at large.
The capitalist-owned media and education system is thus incapable of leading social movements that seek to dismantle the rule of the rich. Capitalists adhere to Western idealism, the philosophy that the mind shapes matter. Individualism, white supremacy, and American exceptionalism are all part of an idealistic philosophy which grants the capitalist overlords of this racist and imperialist system the God-given right to exploit the people and the planet. By demarcating who is human and who is sub-human, the most brutal forms of targeted repression against the oppressed find ample justification. These conditions generate a struggle for new ideas and new forms of social organization on the part of the targeted.
“Capitalist property owners have complete control and influence over the so-called ‘mass media.’”
The battle of ideas between the rulers and the ruled is all too overlooked in the United States. Too few self-identified “left” activists and intellectuals are willing to commit themselves to studying the differences between communism, socialism, anarchism, liberation theology and the host of ideas that have arisen over the course of history from the rebellions of the downtrodden. Even fewer are willing to contribute to the theological debate among the oppressed because such a path doesn’t lead to a comfortable career in academia or elsewhere. The temptation of maintaining adherence to the theology of the ruling class runs deep into every crevice of U.S. society. In the age of capitalist decline, economic desperation provides significant roadblocks to the spread of revolutionary ideas, even in periods of spontaneous rebellion.
Rebellions and social movements in the U.S. are immediately placed under the discipline of the Democratic Party and then taken to its graveyard to die. The Democratic Party currently finds itself mired in its own internal rebellion. Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other political leaders of this rebellion have challenged the Democratic Party’s austerity agenda with social democratic demands for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and an end to the growing poverty facing nearly eighty percent of the U.S. population.This movement finds itself at a crossroads. Its popularity is surging yet political leaders such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have been ruthlessly attacked by their corporate overseers in the DNC.
“The temptation of maintaining adherence to the theology of the ruling class runs deep into every crevice of U.S. society.”
The demand for social democracy emerges from a society which has been organized against social democracy since the very beginning. Social democracy assumes that universal equality is achievable under the economic arrangement of capitalist society. The United States is an imperialist empire; universal equality has always run counter to its anti-Black and settler colonial roots. Social democracy is thus a reformist movement that retains key aspects of the ruling class’ settler colonial and imperial mindset and policy. Bernie Sanders’ condemnation of Bolivarian social democracy in Venezuela during the second presidential debate provides a stark example of the colonial and imperial limitations inherent in U.S.-style social democracy. Rather than express solidarity with a movement that has built over two million homes for the poor from 2011-2018 despite the presence of starvation U.S. sanctions, Sanders called Nicolas Maduro a “vicious tyrant” whose country’s experiment with socialism is inferior to the white social democracy that resides in the West.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has gone even further than Sanders in condemning the struggle for self-determination and socialism east and south of the U.S. empire’s borders. AOC has called Venezuela a “failed state” and more recently spearheaded an anti-China dispute against the National Basketball Association (NBA). AOC co-signed a letter with neoconservative U.S. representatives Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton that demanded NBA commissioner Adam Silver withdraw from China for failing to respect the values of free speech. AOC aligned herself with the rightwing separatist movement in Hong Kong currently waving U.S. and British flags against mainland China, effectively making the NBA’s profit motive more progressive than her political orientation toward the People’s Republic.
“Ocasio-Cortez has gone even further than Sanders in condemning the struggle for self-determination and socialism east and south of the U.S. empire’s borders.”
Chinese socialism has accounted for one hundred percent of all poverty reduction around the world over the last three decades. Manufacturing workers in China have seen their wages rise by twelve percent per year since 2001. AOC should applaud these achievements but instead parrots the same anti-China policy as the Pentagon. Social democracy capitulates to a key facet of capitalist and imperialist theology. The ruling class has no interest in delivering any aspect of AOC’s program and instead hopes that the halls of power will sink her domestic agenda in the poisonous brew of political careerism. AOC’s position on China demonstrates to the elite that social democracy in the U.S. will not disrupt the U.S. empire’s machine of death and destruction abroad.
Poll after poll shows that majorities want Bernie and AOC-style social democracy. However, these pollsters rarely ask for opinions on empire or white supremacy. Black Lives Matter Network leader Alicia Garza didn’t bother to ask Black Americans their thoughts on warin her “Black Census Project” even though Black Americans are the most pro-peace constituency in U.S. history. Social democratic politics have sharpened a much-needed split in the Democratic Party, but their treatment of empire and race as separate issues provides a chance for the empire to rehabilitate rather than die a much-deserved death.
“AOC parrots the same anti-China policy as the Pentagon.”
Socialism offers a way forward that is fundamentally different than AOC’s social democracy. Socialism is a political theology of the oppressed that doesn’t shy away from the question of power. Power is not merely the ability to force concessions from the ruling class, as important as doing so may be in raising popular expectations. Power is about control; it is about determining the direction of society and the organs of the state that plan the economy. Without power, there is no liberation. Socialism is the next stage of our struggle for liberation and it is important that we debate its meaning if we are to find our way out of the grip of U.S. imperial domination.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected], on Instagram at danny_haiphong, and on Youtube at The Left Lens with Danny Haiphong.
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