Winter in America


The Constitution was a noble piece of paper
With Free Society it struggled, but they died in vain
And now Democracy is begging on the corner
Hoping for some rain/It look like it’s hoping for some rain
And I see the robins perched in barren treetops
Watching last-ditch racists marching ‘cross the floor
Just like the peace signs that vanished in our dream
Never had a chance to grow/never had a chance to grow
And now it’s winter, winter in America

And all of the healers have been killed or betrayed

Yeah but people know, people know
It’s winter Lord knows it’s winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting because nobody knows what to save

Save your soul from winter in America

- Gil Scott-Heron, “Winter in America”

Welcome to the Winter/Spring Issue of Socialism and Democracy. Two editorials are rare for this journal. They represent not disunity but diversity. There are many voices in the struggle for human rights that are rarely heard, and many constituencies, powerless and impoverished, who are often spoken about but rarely spoken to. My voice, constructed from an African American inner city experience speaks, hopefully, to all of the readers of this journal, but most of all it beckons a new readership—young, and older, people of color who come from the same apartheid urban experience as I do.

In conceiving this special issue and soliciting articles from some of the major known and not-yet-known radical scholar/activists who are writing and struggling around the issue of race and racism, my intent was not only to broaden the discourse for the dedicated readership of Socialism and Democracy, but also to reach out to my sisters and brothers from the Harlems, Bedford-Stuyvesants, Brownsvilles, and South Bronxes of America who have never read an issue of Socialism and Democracy: the black (and Latino) knowledge—and wisdom-seekers who have probably never read any socialist literature at all but who feast on knowledge—especially consciousness-raising esoteric knowledge, cultural/ Kemetic knowledge, and knowledge about conspiracies, avidly buying such books from black bookstores and street vendors, and following professors on the Afrocentric lecture circuit. My beloved college intellectuals and street intellectuals need to broaden, deepen and sharpen their analysis of the capitalist system that oppresses us all, just as my comrades-in-arms, my fellow academicians and activists who regularly read this journal, need to challenge their own understanding and analysis of a system of racism which oppresses many and demeans us all.

From where I stand, the enslavement, segregation and continued oppression of African people has been the central contradiction in the American experiment with democracy, from the days of the Founding Fathers to the current era of neo-fascism. Yet it was the conquest and genocide of Native Americans and the theft of their land by European colonial settlers which set the stage for the foundation of the white male bourgeois republic. The supreme irony of history was that this colonial settler state turned slavocracy turned apartheid state turned superpower turned empire—was born in a bloody revolution against the tyranny of a British monarch, declaring its sovereignty and independence based on the self-evident truths that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that it is the right and duty of the people to alter or abolish any government which would reduce them under despotism.

A passage charging the British crown with the crime of waging a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating them and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither,” was, of course, deleted from the final draft of the Declaration; a Constitution declared such people only three-fifths human; and a Supreme Court said that they had no rights that a white man was bound to respect.

Some say that this means that democracy is a work-in-progress— that the struggle for civil rights, human rights, democratic rights is the struggle to continually expand the vision of the Founding Fathers to secure the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all marginalized peoples: African Americans, Native Americans, women, poor whites, gays, lesbians, and all those falling outside of the definition of “Christian moral majority.” Perhaps. A radical interpretation of the Declaration is that the phrase “pursuit of happiness” was but a code word which meant that the white patriarchs, the Founding Fathers, had the right to the pursuit of private property—that is, the pursuit of massive accumulations of private wealth—through the capitalist exploitation of labor, the forced labor of enslaved Africans and the exploited labor of a white working class.

So the question arises as to whether these are incompatible goals: democracy for all and the exploitative pursuit of enormous private wealth by a few. The incompatibility is evident to socialists of all stripes. It is not so apparent to those whose critique of American society begins with the contradiction of race—especially in an era when “getting paid” is the byword, and the commodification (that is, the marketing and sale) of black culture by the recording and media corporations is a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s a whole generation of young black people who uncritically (and understandably) want a piece of the American Pie, after generations of racial exclusion from the prosperity and affluence of the society around them. These young people are buppy-oriented if they are college-bound or educated, and “ghetto-fabulous”-oriented if they dropped out of or only finished high school. Another group of alienated African Americans have retreated into the comfort zone of racial chauvinism and romantic quests for authentic cultural identity. That’s understandable too, given the nature of the apartheid society we live in.

A quest for national liberation and democratic rights, which was born of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power/pan-Africanist Movement of the ‘60s, crumbled under the weight of COINTELPRO, Reaganomics, the values of a “me-generation,” a genocidal crack epidemic, fratricidal narco-terrorist wars for inner city drug-dealing turf, the warehousing of black males in prison, gender inequality, the irresolution of black male-female dynamics, and indecisiveness on the question “Which way forward?” In the vacuum, romanticism and escapism of all sorts begins to flourish—the commercialization of sex and violence, the isolationist retreat into houses of worship, the lumpen-bourgeois pursuit of the illusion of happiness, and the seeking of all solutions in the resurrection of mummified culture. It’s all good...  but in due proportion! Ma’at means balance in all things, and sacred traditions say the best way is the middle way.

The quest for financial security in an uncertain economy with its attendant emphasis on entrepreneurship at all levels—street vending, multi-level marketing, small business ownership—is a conservatizing force which impedes a class analysis. But labor-intensive proprietorships such as “Mom and Pop” stores are not and have never been enemy; the enemy is the global capitalism driven and perpetuated by multinational corporations. You can be an entrepreneur and a socialist too!

Which way forward? Some say nationalism, some say socialism. But it has never been an “either/or” question. The path forward is self-determination/national liberation and class-struggle. And class struggle means international solidarity with all progressive people. We began constructing that community of progressive people through the radio waves with the Pacifica network (WBAI 99.5 FM for those of you in New York), and we have to continue talking to each other not just anonymously or through call-ins on the airwaves but in person at venues such as the Brecht Forum.

It’s Winter in America: the right-wing reactionaries have taken over, last-ditch racists like Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott march across the Senate floor, the mindless fools are in control of the ship, civil liberties are being curtailed, a creeping Homelands Security police state is upon us, and the robins see no spring in sight as the world drifts perilously towards World War III. Gil says that the soul—the core of humane values—is what we have to save. And we who are most oppressed and exploited are the soul-force. Without us taking on the moral mantle of leadership, and having the vision, the determination and the knowledge of how to reconstruct this society—and this world—so that all people can live in harmony, there is no salvation from Winter in America.

Welcome to the Winter/Spring issue of Socialism and Democracy. We bear the brunt of the Winter of capitalism and racism, and we seek and struggle for the Spring of Socialism and True Democracy.

Peace and Blessings,
Yusuf Nuruddin