A Leftist View of the Uprising
The interview with Jordan Camp in “Urban Rebellions Then and Now,” begins with the assertions that “the masses no longer believe what they once believed” and that elites have “lost their legitimacy,” surviving only by the use of force.
I’m not certain the “masses,” beyond youth, are now ready for rebellion, nor do I think the elite class has completely lost its legitimacy, but I sense both statements have the possibility of becoming true.
In the interview, Mr. Camp recognizes, as historian Dr. Heather Ann Richardson does in How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, that the battle is against an oligarchy, but Mr. Camp generalizes the oligarchy to the ruling elites of contemporary America, while Dr. Richardson limits her analysis to the American South.
Dr. Richardson also implicitly recognizes class, but Mr. Camp uses class as a central component of his argument. And he incorporates race in ways many on the left do not; as Bernie Sanders’ recent campaign illustrates, class, not race, is the typical focus of the left.
Mr. Camp, however, combines race and class into a powerful tool of analysis that is found primarily among certain Black activists, those within the tradition of W.E.B Dubois and Malcolm X, and which is represented in contemporary America by Angela Davis and the writers at the Hampton Institute.
The current uprising has begun to chip away at the Pillars of Support for existing systems of power. Those pillars (popularized by the Serbian Otpor! movement) include:
3. The Education System
4. Public Officials and Workers
5. Religious Institutions
6. Business Institutions and Labor Unions
The current rising has eroded each of these pillars, breaking away people from the institutions of elite power (repression).
Antonio Gramsci’s “cultural hegemony” is important for understanding how elites may be defeated in our present environment. The cultural hegemony established by elites must be rejected by the “masses” for a rebellion is to be successful.
This includes a range of beliefs about who wields legitimate power, who receives the rewards of the economic system, and what the aims of government should be. The “morbid symptoms” (Gramsci’s phrase) of capitalism are laid bare by grotesque inequality, skyrocketing unemployment, and the failure of the market system to prepare for, or respond to, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Poor People’s Campaign, led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, is a revival of the moral battle for justice led by Martin Luther King Jr. The Poor People’s Campaign has the moral power and organizational coherence to strip away the pretenses of the political and economic elites. Black Lives Matter and other groups, including veterans, labor unions, and socialists, have the willingness to confront power in the streets. Each time these groups are repressed by the police, the elites lose legitimacy.
For additional perspective, it’s also useful to read Waging Nonviolence’s analysis of the successes of the rising.
From the interview:
“The current moment we’re living through is what the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci referred to as a “crisis of legitimacy,” or a “crisis of authority.” The ruling class has lost its consensus; it’s no longer “leading” but [it is still] “dominant, exercising coercive force alone.” This means that the masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies; they no longer believe what they used to.
“There are certain moments when struggle intensifies, when the legitimacy crisis deepens, and previously separate forces merge. These moments are very unpredictable. In my judgment they offer a unique opportunity to understand the structure of the economic system that we live in. They also help us understand how forces of opposition can chart a path out of the crisis.”