Over-standing the Tea Party Movement

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The following essay is a guest post from Austin Thompson, an AP Comparative Government teaching fellow in Dakar, Senegal. Austin writes from a "third worldist, pan-Africanist" perspective on the politics, economics and social movements of the Global South (especially Africa and the diaspora). He is also helping organize the Pan-African Youth Summit in Dakar and a planned Live From Planet Earth, Dakar #001.

Over-standing the Tea Party Movement
by Austin Thompson

The term “astroturfing” is used to define groups or coalitions that are conjured up and funded by corporations and then made to appear as though they are independent expressions of political action. The right-wing Tea Party movement that dominant bourgeois media institutions call grassroots is, in reality, a modern evolution of the alliance between transnational capital and white nationalist populism.

Anti-egalitarianism is a defining perspective of both white nationalists and transnational capital. Their co-dependence around this principle has shaped race relations in America from the very beginning. Unlike European countries who built social welfare systems through the super-exploitation of colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the United States has historically had its own internal black colony to be super-exploited. After receiving independence, the United States did not free its slaves but instead encouraged the Southern slave economy to continue feeding the rapid growth of industrial capitalism in the North.

After the Civil War, white militants directed sustained campaigns of violence at any African descendant community in America which sought to settle on newly redistributed lands under a special field order. The Ku Klux Klan and other armed white militias capitalized on the second amendment to organize their own version of racial justice. To get around the fact that blacks had legally received the right to vote, Southern state governments instituted poll taxes, literacy tests, and stole elections to prevent blacks from gaining control of political and economic institutions in the South. Then industrial capital which, was comprised of dominant class interests, temporarily gave tacit support to racist social control.

The U.S. Government, which served as an instrument of the rule of transnational capital in the late 20th century, organized systematically a racist system in which black labourers would remain super-exploited at the benefit of the white population even as America promoted “freedom” around the world. Poor and working-class whites were able to apply their racial identity to benefit from a system of white supremacy. When Europe turned toward social democracy after WWII, white nationalists panicked that the expansion of social democratic entitlements in America would eventually come to include Negros just as voting rights had before. The government, under pressure from the Black Freedom Movement and third world liberation movements vacillated between extending more social protections to save its reputation and repressing attempts for a fundamental transformation of society.

After the eruption of revolutionary nationalist struggles in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, U.S.-based transnational corporations organized the ‘silent majority’ and later ‘moral majority’ to help slash social programs, privatize public services, deregulate the economy and roll back any legal gains which directly challenged the balance of race and class power in America. These changes were couched in white nationalist rhetoric and played a large role in freeing up transnational capital to begin its assault of the third world; we today call it globalization.

Responding to the potential of a moderate European-style social democracy under a Democratic Party majority, the owners of private capital have once again been able to stoke the flames of white nationalism to block any efforts to pass basic social democratic reforms in situations that do not first benefit their interests. Tireless corporate media coverage was given to the right-wing demonstrations and town hall meetings in opposition to a universal health care plan that would have included a limited public option to compete with private insurance companies. The unrest was fomented by insurance corporations and right-wing think tanks which circulated myths about ‘death panels’ and other wild conspiracy theories. President Barack Obama, whose base paradoxically includes the most oppressed sectors of American society and Wall Street has sided with the latter, making major concessions to transnational capital even as they shift resources and support to the political Right.

The Tea Party slogan “Take Back America” is aimed not only in opposition to the first black American president but also to the perceived growth of an interventionist State looking to redistribute wealth and create new social programs that benefit poor blacks and “illegal” Latino immigrants. For those of us conscious enough to over-stand, the activation of the Tea Party movement and other white nationalist fronts is a polarising event which holds organizing opportunities for African descendants in America and other oppressed nationalities struggles for self-determination and social justice.

A lesson from James Boggs in his 1963 classic American Revolution speaks truth to us today:

“Very few revolutions start with a conscious attempt to take power. No revolution has ever started with everyone in the country agreeing with the goal of the revolutionary movement. It is clashes, both ideological and physical, among segments of the population and usually the whip of the counter-revolution which give the revolution its momentum.”