Democracy and inequality

African American History Month can serve to remind all of us that democracy in our U.S. of A. is illusive. It can also serve as a period to seriously reflect — though the challenges of real struggle require a constant exploration of this matter — on a fundamental truth articulated by the former Communist Party USA chair, Gus Hall: racism is our nation’s most dangerous pollutant. Moreover, African American History Month is a moment to revel in the glory of the culture produced by the African American people’s struggle, and an opportunity to use its fervent yearning for freedom as an impetus to recommit to the fight for social change and advance.

The Bush administration continues to preach to the world about the virtues of our democracy, but a fundamental Marxist truth remains unresolved: real democracy must rest on real equality; otherwise, only a semblance but not real democracy exists.

George W’s base is the haves and the have-mores; our base is the folks on whose backs the haves and have-mores extract their wealth. The democracy that exists in this context is a democracy in words more than substance. How can real democracy be present between those who own and control everything and those who own and control nothing but their ability to effect united struggle?

The haves and the have-mores can buy their way into making us think what is good for them is good for the USA. But the reality of our current world indicates that what is good for them is truly bad for the have-nots and those who have even less. African American History Month can be a time for us to mull over how various kinds of inequality and oppression are linked and the multiple levels of their interconnection.

Gus Hall wrote extensively about the influence of racism on the working-class movement. It is easy for us to distinguish ourselves from the haves and the have-mores, but racism is an obstacle that prevents us from collectively grasping our common working-class identity and recognizing those with whom we are organically tied. Racism camouflages how class-based inequality and inequality based on national and racial oppression are interconnected. Racism also contributes to hiding how all inequalities diminish democracy in the U.S. African American History Month is a time to intensify our efforts to come to grips with this reality.

Other social classes, even other non-big-business-owning classes, do not have the same interest as the working class in the necessity of waging a winning struggle against racism. This divergence requires that the working class and its leaders in the labor movement come to understand that it has the responsibility to lead other classes and strata, not follow their accommodation to various degrees of racism, including paternalism. Working-class leadership is not simply an appearance; it has an essence which must be realized for real working-class leadership to exist. It must reflect the fundamental interest of the working class — the only class for which the fight against racism is a fundamental necessity, beyond a moral imperative, critical to the very nature of its being.

African American History Month 2006 calls on us to remember that in Iraq, working-class U.S. youth of all races and nationalities are dying. Nationally and racially oppressed youth, especially African American youth, are dying in disproportionate numbers. These young people joined the military to finance their desire to acquire a college education. They are offered the military or prison with very little in between. It is a crime that so very many African American youth have grave difficulty seeing their way to a meaningful future. Yet, they still produce cultural forms which mesmerize the world.

This African American History Month we cannot forget those devastated by the disaster in New Orleans and the Gulf area. Even the white people in New Orleans who voted for Bush are complaining there is not enough aid getting in. The state of African American New Orleans continues to be reprehensible.

The latest reports of Bush-sponsored spying on U.S. citizens give especially grave cause for concern if we use the African American experience as an example. The fight against terrorism is no excuse for domestic spying. Spying never stands alone. It is always coupled with the attempt to undermine movements and the torment and murder of leaders. Remember Martin and Malcolm, and all the others. The spying must stop.

Finally, when you think about African American History Month, don’t focus simply on the pain and suffering caused by impoverishment and oppression. Immerse yourself in the cultural expressions which give glory to resistance. Think about past and present struggles to achieve real freedom, and what we can do collectively to help get us all there.

Dee Myles is a Chicago educator.