First released 29 August, 2020. Available here.
Derek Johnson: For our Furious Political Thought segment, we’re interviewing Robert Cuffy. Robert is a revolutionary socialist, who was a co-founder of the Socialist Workers’ Alliance of Guyana. He lives in Brooklyn, works in Child Welfare, and is a rank-and-file member of the DC37 Local 371, and is also part of the Afrosocialist Caucus of the DSA. Welcome to the show.
Ani White: Thanks for coming on, so first off do you want to tell us about the Socialist Workers’ Alliance of Guyana, that’s the part of your bio that I wasn’t aware of, or was least aware of.
Robert Cuffy: Yeah, so we’re a very modest project of young Guyanese people who are trying to unearth and spread the tradition of West Indian radicalism that’s been buried over the last generation, the last few decades, as the anti-colonial struggle has turned into its opposite, and the new colonial ruling class in the Carribean have come to make a more embrace of the imperialist system. As such they leave the legacy of Claudia Jones, Walter Rodney, and CLR James and others off the public curriculum. So when you hear about things like socialism, you might think it’s very foreign, and the Socialist Workers’ Alliance tries to stand in Walter Rodney’s footsteps, and on his shoulders, to say that in Guyana at least the only solution to any of the social problems plaguing us comes from the Guyanese people activating their own agency, to change society. So it’s a group of people, both in the country and in the diaspora, striving to put forward that perspective.
Derek: So US capitalism faces three major crises. The virus, the rebellion, and the recession. How do these crises relate to eachother?
Robert Cuffy: Well I would say, firstly international capitalism faces these three crises, right they’re just in many ways very pronounced in the United States and, with the United States claiming itself as the centre of the world, certainly the world’s leading imperialist country, as the virus unfolds here it puts into clear relief the crises that the wider capitalist system, the imperialist system, is facing. I think the United States is especially emblematic of capitalism’s long-term crisis of the profitability of the system, which in turn rears its head in a cyclical matter through the boom and bust cycles. I think if you use the United States as an example, you think about the period of the Great Depression in the 30s, then one can say okay, there was this great economic crisis within the United States that was symptomatic of something happening in the wider world, how does it relate to today? And I think in answering that question, we have to be clear that even though the New Deal of the 1930s was in many ways a response to the mass uprisings and workers’ struggle that led to the creation in Congress of industrialised organisation, and led to in some places interracial struggle between black and white workers. The New Deal in itself did not resolve the crisis brought on by the Great Depression, and that crisis was never fully resolved, it was only in some ways abated by the US’ entry into WWII, and especially the fact that coming out of WWII, the United States was the country least affected, and least destroyed by the war, and a result was able to leverage itself in contracts for the rebuilding of Europe, and the rebuilding of Japan, which in many ways helped to bolster its economy through the late 40s, the 50s. And that period of history in many ways is seen as the golden age of American capitalism, what people think of popularly when they think of the American Dream. But the reality is that crisis reared its head again in the late 60s and 70s, and has continued to pop up in the 80s, late in the 90s with the dotcom bubble, and then in 2007-2008 with the Great Recession brought on by the subprime mortgage crisis.
As 2020 rolled around, and as COVID-19 as a public health crisis came into play, it showed the ways in which I would say the 2008 crisis was never fully resolved, because the economy was so vulnerable that it went into a tailspin. For example, the demand for petroleum and oil went so low that there was no place to store the oil that was pumped by the international capitalist system. So these crises really interact with and contextualise eachother. So COVID-19 starting, with its well-known origins, or as they put it the origins in Wuhan China. If you think about the role the Chinese state plays in the global capitalist system, I think it’s instructive that they have workers crowded into dormitories in port cities, workers who exist as a whole different caste of workers from those who are traditionally from the city, workers who were pulled from rural areas, who are migrant workers, who are literally there to serve as super-exploited workers, to keep China as this global warehouse, and factory of the world, so that capitalism can chase its ability to make profits by finding even lower wages. And in China itself it’s also detaining Uyghur Muslims, and Uyghur people in general, in these cramped conditions, so this is the conditions under which this crisis comes to be.
And then it opens the door for the United States, which led by its white supremacist. Anti-science president not taking any of the necessary measures to address COVID-19. It’s in the midst of this, in an economic crisis that historic numbers of unemployed, historic numbers of people not paying their mortgages, and paying their rents, it’s from there enters the George Floyd rebellion where the police murdered this guy on video for all the world to see.
Derek: Yeah it’s also, so many people have moved from homeownership to being renters since the 2008 housing crisis just set everybody up to now be in this crisis, to be kicked out of their homes in the middle of this pandemic, and it kinda seems like a reverse of the fortune of America, not having a war fought on our soil in World War I and II, and now with the pandemic the worst of it is actually happening here. And I also like to point out too that we’re also finding out more and more, as we learn about the novel coronavirus, is that it’s looking like it may not have even just started in China, and that it may have been one of those dormant viruses that exist all around the world, that was awakened by climate change. Because there’s been more findings of the disease in the sewers in Spain, and Italy, and I think there was even some in Yosemite Park, and several places around the world where they tracked in the sewers. And they’re finding there to be a relationship between temperatures, especially low temperatures, and basically sharing toilets and bathrooms and everything, and that having to do with why there’s so much outbreaks at the meat plants. And it’s looking like this virus may have actually been activated October, even predating Wuhan, and it looks like we have our governments doing everything possible to not handle this virus correctly, and Trump obviously represents the worst of that.
So what do you think that Trump represents, and how do we fight him?
Robert Cuffy: Yeah, so I think this virus is popularly understood to have started in Wuhan, and Trump of course calls it a Chinese virus, which is entirely racist, but as you were saying this virus comes from the basic social relations of our society, and one aspect of it is that our society continues to degrade the environment for the purposes of capital accumulation, and creates the conditions in which something like this can spread. And it spreads even more rapidly when you have a Head of State that doesn’t take the threat of it seriously, and doesn’t even try to do the kind of balancing that the old industrialists would’ve done, which is to say okay, we need a working-class which can reproduce itself well enough to be able to actually show up to work and get the work done. There seems to be a wholesale dismissal from the Trump wing of the ruling class regarding the well-being of people, and one would think he would at least care about the white working-class, but the indifference goes clear across the spectrum, every layer of the working-class, all the way from the most oppressed workers, undocumented people, and people of colour, all the way to even unionised workers who have not been able to get the adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that they need.
And I think this is indicative of a President who is a rising authoritarian. And this authoritarianism is, in many ways, a result of a failed attempt at populism in the United States. That populism itself was a response to the economic crisis, where people saw, not specifically capitalism but at least the finance aspect of it, and the corporations as responsible for the giant theft of wealth, and people were disgusted with the government under Obama bailing out the banks and the auto industry, but not the auto workers and the homeowners.
As a result we saw two movements develop, on the left we had Occupy Wall St, on the right we had the Tea Party, and in both these populist movements, even though they made great successes and they were able to influence the Establishment to take up these positions, they weren’t able to extend democratic control of the state right. At no point did the state start reacting to these movements. The state in the case of Occupy Wall St, crushed that movement, and in the case of the Tea Party just incorporated some of its demands.
Derek Johnson: Yeah I’d argue on the latter that that’s because the Tea Party was a top-down astroturf thing, whereas with Occupy that was organic, so therefore as they say the Democrats don’t fear the base, so they just waited for Obama and the fusion centres and the FBI to crush it in the streets, and then they no longer would have to listen to any of the demands that Occupy had on the Democrats.
Robert Cuffy: That makes sense, but I don’t fetishise things being done on a grassroots basis, because the right wing does grassroots really well. To me, if you’re doing something grassroots, the real litmus test is what is the political content of it, and programme. And partially because Occupy Wall St challenged capitalism as an excessive finance system, as opposed to a social relation of production, it was unmoored from the reality it needed.
So what both of the movements did was, they kind of gave up their power to populist figures. So we saw Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump come in as these men on white horses, anti-establishment candidates, if they were Jesus they’d be threatening to throw the moneylenders out of the temple. What they were both threatening to do really was ‘drain the swamp’, to say that these establishment politicians have messed things up for long enough, what you need is an outsider who can come and clear things up. And clearly the Democrats were not ready to take up Bernie’s message, they weren’t ready in 2016, they weren’t ready in 2020.
But Trump outmanoeuvred the Republican establishment to win the nomination, and shocked the Democrat establishment to win the presidency, partially because he recognised, and acknowledged, even if it was an entirely racist way, the real suffering happening in Middle America and in the working-class, by saying ‘Make America Great Again’, and making reference to this golden age of American capitalism, where at least for the white working-class you could have a guarantee that your children would go on to have a successful life, if not a life better than you, they’d own a car, have a house, have a job, have a pension and these things. He said ‘Make America Great Again’, and the Democrats, in their tone-deaf way responded ‘America is Already Great’, and didn’t even do things like campaign in some of the critical swing states.
The origins of Trump is the origins of a system in crisis, where if the state acts as the executive committee of the ruling class, then the competition to be the executive was won by someone who was willing to put aside the norms of the past, and willing to take risks that might do things like spark uprisings and rebellions, that the others were too afraid to do, willing to risk on the social stability of the system. And I still think we have that dynamic playing out, and that’s the intra-ruling class, amongst the American bourgeoisie and the state, happening between Trump, the military and security establishment, the Democratic establishment and the Republicans as well.
Derek Johnson: Yeah I kinda see that as like, somebody who’s nouveau riche, mobster-level type New York, New Jersey moving up, pushing out the old WASP ruling class from New England back in the day *laughs* And it’s just like, okay we’re gonna take on a chance on New York, and take a chance on the worst of New York developers.
Robert Cuffy: Yeah and like, where I live in Brooklyn here, it’s close to the border of Queens, if I walk about 10 blocks into Queens, what I come across is a plaque honouring Fred Christ Trump, Donald Trump’s father at the place where he allegedly started his own business. So this is clearly a different sector of the ruling class than the Vanderbilts or the Roosevelts. This is new money, not old money, and it’s new money that’s literally leveraging the fact that it’s new money to say, ‘I’m not built into this system, I’m supposedly a self-made man, I, if you put me into power, can rise above the fray of this partisan divide and war that’s happening, and even rise above the state’, and this is a reference to the Marxist theory of Bonapartism, about how rulers try to rise above the fray and wield state power on behalf of the masses, and they do away with things like due process and a pretence of objectivity.
Like right now, Trump’s Attorney-General, Bill Barr, doesn’t even pretend that he’s an objective law enforcement officer. He has made it clear that he’s at the beckon call of the president, and has been cooperating with him on things like sending the Federal troops into Democratic-led cities, where the protest movement continues to go on.
Derek Johnson: He’s moving us into a direction of constitutional fascism, where the law only applies to the rest of us, and everybody aligned with Trump and his administration and lackeys and everybody, they get to do anything they want, and we get kind of a kleptocracy, or an oligarchy…
Robert Cuffy: I’ve seen in some places that the Republic is at risk, and I don’t think they’re wrong, the basic democratic rights enjoyed in this country, and to be clear these rights didn’t come to us because they were handed down by the Founding Fathers, or any Great Men who have held office in the United States, these are rights that people fought for, people died for, people had water hoses turned on them, had dogs sic’d on them, they faced the firing line from both the police and vigilantes, and lynchings. The mere right to vote, for both women and people of colour in this country, is something that was fought for, and the voter suppression that’s happening, the demand for in-person voting during this public health crisis, everything that this unpopular president can do to maintain power, that’s every mechanism happening right now.
I would use the analogy of what’s happening in Guyana right now, where in recent year we’ve found out we have this oil off the Atlantic coast. And deals include Exxon, a really unfair deal for Guyana which Exxon has leveraged their power as an international financial organisation to do. And there’s an intense fight over state power between the sitting coalition government, and the opposition People’s Progressive Power, and even though by all accounts the opposition, the People’s Progressive Party, has won the election that was held in March, the coalition government has used every legal trick in the book to hold onto power. First they claimed to be anti-imperialist, and said the United States was trying to subvert their election, then they claimed it was voter fraud, and now they’re appealing the election results through the Carribean court of justice.
And one can imagine, should November come around – and I say ‘should November come around’ because only god knows what could happen now, late July and November, will Biden and Trump still be alive? These are questions we don’t know the answer to – but let’s say we go into the scenario where Biden does pull it off and win, will Trump
office? Or has the packing of the Supreme Court, the Federal judiciary, and the Attorney-General to his side, all been part of him trying to indemnify himself against the election results, and go through the process which they’re going through in Guyana: they’ll appeal and appeal and appeal, if the decision reaches the Supreme Court, in whose favour is the Supreme Court built and stacked right now?
Derek Johnson: Trump is screwed if he steps down. The second he steps down, he’s got lawsuits til the end of time.
Ani White: What’s the deal with the USA’s COVID policy, which seems terrifyingly negligent from this distance, why do you think the policy has been implemented the way it has?
Robert Cuffy: Well, the general thing we say about capitalism is that it’s a society geared around the accumulation of profit right, the extent to which it addresses human needs is the extent to which the balance of class struggle is against our own ruling class and the state, and the historical struggle to create things like a public health system. And I think one of the underlying ways in which the United States is backwards is its public health system, because it exists in little-to-no fashion, like the public health systems which have existed, like the National Health System (NHS) in the UK, we don’t have one comprehensive public health system, we don’t really have decisive Federal control over the healthcare system, in the way
if a decision is made tomorrow in Washington, in LA for example, a hospital administration would be rushing to make changes. With this Federalised structure that we have, it’s insanely difficult to get things done, and then the reason I would say upwards of 20,000 people have died in New York City for example, from COVID-19 is because there’s been a fight between the Federal government and State governments over the direction to go in fighting COVID, because for the first part the Federal government under Trump, the parts that he controls, did not acknowledge COVID-19 to be a real health crisis.
Trump only wore a mask in public for the first time maybe last week, or the week before last, that would’ve been in July, and we’ve known about the disease and its terrible consequences since January. So I think there’s a reason that in the increasingly authoritarian states like the US, Brazil and India, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc, because its leaders have made clear that not only generally do they care about profit over people, but they’re not in any way responsive to people’s movements that threaten the system, where they would say okay let’s make some concessions towards this public health crisis, or let’s make some concessions towards the fact that we need the working-class meaningfully reproduced in some way.
They’re willing to let a genocide happen. And that’s frankly what COVID-19 represents for the international working-class. It’s like in Shrek, ‘some of you may die, but that’s a risk we’re willing to take.’
Ani White: You’re part of the DSA Afrosocialists caucus, can you tell us about the DSA itself as well as the caucus?
Robert Cuffy: Well, I’ll tell you my impressions of the DSA itself as well as the Afrosocialists caucus, because I don’t want to speak on behalf of the DSA, because for all intents and purposes I am a very new member, I only joined the DSA around 2017 or 2018.
But the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is an organisation that has existed for decades in the United States. It was originally conceived as the Democratic Socialist Organising Committee (DSOC) I believe, and later changed its name to the DSA. The things for which it’s known, over the course of history, has been most significantly endorsing Jesse Jackson’s campaigns for the presidency. It’s an organisation, as far as I understand it, that was mostly left-wing members of the union leadership as well as left-wing academics on campuses.
And this organisation, as 2016 came along, as the threat of Trump became more and more clear, and as Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination gained steam, they endorsed Bernie in much the same way as they had endorsed Jesse Jackson. But given the circumstances of this election, coming on the heels of Obama
power, and the Occupy Wall St and Black Lives Matter movement, Sanders’ campaign got all this impetus which drove the DSA into the membership ballooning from about 5,000 to maybe around 70,000 where it is now.
Politically, as far its principles go, the organisation says it’s a democratic socialist organisation, and it is a multi-tendency organisation. It was previously linked to the Second International, but has since cut those ties and has meaningfully moved left, insofar as it’s endorsed the campaign for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) [on Israel]. It’s had prominent members like Alexandria Occasio-Cortez win office, and supported the campaigns of people like Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, ‘The Squad’ in the House of Representatives, and of course Bernie Sanders’ two runs for the Democratic nomination.
And for the most part, I would say that in the United States, when young people become interested in socialism, the DSA is the first stop, the place they turn, so it’s an organisation that’s really exciting insofar that it has a lot of young activists trying to make the world a better place. But also it has its history, an its baggage attached to it, as an organisation: it doesn’t see the need for an explicit overthrow of the capitalist state, and believes that through the mass struggle in the streets, and its electoral activity, as well as union work and the work in the community, that the system can be meaningfully changed into addressing people’s needs.
Ani White: The Afrosocialist caucus, what’s the perspective and work of that grouping?
Robert Cuffy: Well the Afrosocialist caucus was founded about 3 or 4 years ago, I wasn’t one of the founders to be clear, and it was founded in response to the fact that the DSA itself demographically is an overwhelmingly, and disproportionately white organisation… I live here in East New York Brooklyn, and as an example if I had happened to join the organisation tonight, they would assign me to what is called the North Brooklyn of NYC DSA, and I earlier this year went to a North Brooklyn DSA meeting, and I met a lot of really well-meaning comrades, and we went out after the meeting, we had drinks and a really engaging political organisation, but it’s also the fact that I was about 1 of 3 or 4 black people in a room of about 40-something people. So that’s an alienating experience, and many people have reported this experience in the DSA.
So the Afrosocialist caucus was founded as a way to hold space for people in colour. When it was founded it wasn’t founded as an explicitly political body. A lot of the first meetings were people getting to know eachother at Happy Hours and different social events, it was people doing community work in the schools and these types of things. Only more recently has it coalesced into a more political body. We’re holding reading groups, [like] the Introduction to Socialism, we are facilitating conversations on the left against the tendency of class reductionism. For example, when I first joined I helped to draft a letter to express a letter to address the concerns some of us had about Bernie Sanders waffling on the question of reparations.
So the Afrosocialist caucus has definitely been both a body that holds space for people of colour within the organisation, and makes the DSA a friendlier place for people of colour, and pushing the wider organisation to adopt more intersectional politics, and pulling people of colour on the left and in the community towards more radical and socialist politics.
Derek Johnson: How do you respond to claims that so-called ‘identity politics’ are hostile to socialist universalism?
Robert Cuffy: Yeah I would say it’s wrong. Anyone who asked me that, I would ask them to define identity politics, because I think it’s really important to engage with people based on the ideas they put forward, and specifically even the language they put forward, and no-one claims the term ‘identity politics.’
I feel when anyone says ‘identity politics’, unless they’re specifically referring the Combahee River Collective, they’re being negative, because it is a categorisation of criticism anddismissal of someone’s ideas to say ‘oh, that’s identity politics.’ Because, when you say identity politics you’re talking about such a broad scope of information. CLR James’ view of black liberation for them would be identity politics, Hillary Clinton’s views on black politics would be identity politics, so these people make no differentiation, for example, between what you could call the identity politics of the oppressed, and the identity politics of the oppressor; the identity politics of someone new to the movement, figuring out these questions for themselves, and the identity politics of entrenched leftists who do play upon questions of identity in determining their politics.
So I think the whole framework of universal demands vs specific demands is false. That dichotomy needs to be thrown out the window. And really what we need to pursue is universalism through winning the wider working-class to fight for the particular demands of the oppressed people within the working-class.
And this is a perspective that comes from studying how the class struggle works in the United States. And the Floyd Rebellion that we’re in shows this to be the answer, because when Black people got into the streets, burned shit down and fucked it up, we created a movement in which everybody else followed us to fight for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAffee, Ahmad Avery, and many others. But look at how it has turned into a wider movement, that not only questions the legitimacy of the police, but has changed consciousness to question the legitimacy of the basis on which our society runs.
Because police violence might affect people of colour, and Black people especially, the hardest, but it is a crisis for all working-class people. Because at the end of the day if you have this fantastic separation in your head between particular and universal demands, at the end of the day, if in your persona as a white working-class person you go on strike, who but the police will come to break your strike? So why not join into a movement for the particular struggle for Black Lives, to weaken people’s conception of the police, so if you do go on strike, the police are delegitimised and weakened and cannot break your strike.
This is just the old cranky Leninist in me, but these are not new questions. When Marx and Engels came forward and said ‘workers of the world unite’, it was fine, but as history went on, we came to see that the working-class will not just stride into victory, that we have to deal with tensions within the working-class, and divisions within the working-class. And they first saw the divisions between British and Irish workers, and Engels would start off what would become the theory of labour aristocracy that Lenin later picked up on. And you don’t have to agree with that theory, but the framework, the generalised framework that the most oppressed sectors of the working-class will lead the struggle militantly, and that we need to ground ourselves in that layer of the working-class, there is legitimacy to that framework and that is something that needs to be unearthed and brought forward into this movement. It in many ways complements the Black Feminist theory of intersectionality, for example.
Historical antecedents are not something to be looked past, like Walter Rodney in talking about race and class in Guyanese politics, he answers this methodological question very directly, because he says: “Some people will say the most primary thing is class. Others will say the most primary thing is race. Yet others would say it’s an intersection of race and class.” And Rodney rejects all three of these to say, you have to speak specifically to the intersection of race and class in particular historical circumstances.
So you have to actually do the work, you can’t come in with preconceived notions about how the world works, if you want to understand how race and class interact in the Floyd Rebellion, do the work. I think we’ve had some really sad examples of this faux-universalism, and this class reductionism masquerading as universalism from people like Adolph Reed who wrote a whole article about how the racial disproportionality in COVID-19 is not real, it’s something being pushed by liberals, and fine, it’s okay to have that perspective, but how will you back it up? And within the article he wrote, he doesn’t cite one statistic, not one.
Derek Johnson: Yeah, and I think that’s a very irresponsible thing to write in the middle of a genocide.
Robert Cuffy: And this is why it’s hard sometimes to be a member of the DSA, because people will come and ask you ‘what about this’, and I’ll be like ‘well fuck that guy, he doesn’t represent my politics.’ But the fact that he’s an accepted body of thought is very dangerous to the idea of winning other Black to revolutionary politics, or even the DSA’s more reformist politics.
Derek Johnson: I kind of think from the class reductionist perspective, some of the people embracing Reed, they’re hiding behind him, they’re saying race doesn’t matter, but they’re hiding behind his race to make these arguments, and I find it very troubling that this universalism that they’re trying to do, is like they’re trying to flatten our experiences to create a colourblind leftism that re-centres white men, and then targets the alt-right for conversion, like how you see with BreadTube. It’s like they’re throwing us marginalised people under the bus, and then they just act like anyone who has a ‘non-universal’ experience is just neoliberal.
And it totally ignores all the things have changed in Marxist theory since the New Left, where you have intersectionality, and queer theory, crip theory etc, and it’s just like why are you stuck in the 50s with your class analysis?
Robert Cuffy: I mean, part of it has to do with in many ways abdicating the class struggle. Because let me ask you this: where are the universalists in this movement? Why aren’t they rallying the labour movement to the cause of Black Lives? Or why, in general, if this universal perspective is true, haven’t the unions responded with mass militant strikes in defence of the working-class people being killed? And it has to do with the fact that there are divisions within the working-class along the lines of race, reinforced by the labour movement, which others Black people within the working-class. Philando Castille was a Teamster and he was murdered by the police. Did the Teamsters go on a General Strike for Philando Castille? No.
Let’s be very clear: the legacy of racism in the United States is a legacy that infects all sectors of society. Saying you’re a socialist does not mean that you are somehow exempted from this. Saying you’re against racism does mean you’re somehow exempted from this. The only test of this thing will be actions, and I ask people then: judge the universalists by their actions during the Floyd Rebellion.
Derek Johnson: Yeah, I mean they’re pretty dismissive of Black Lives Matter.
Robert Cuffy: And I have criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve organised Black Lives Matter protests and I have grave criticisms of the movement and the direction of it in many ways, however those criticisms come from within the movement, and this is how you get people to listen to you, you struggle alongside them. I learned this reading Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, that if you build a United Front with people, you build it, you be honest about your politics, and the direction in which you think it will go, and go ‘I don’t think we’re gonna defund the police with these marches. I think we need a wider struggle that calls into question the role the state plays in our society, and the role the pursuit of profit plays in our society, and these might sound like fanciful notions to you right now, but I’m willing to test it with you, by helping you build this struggle.’
‘Universalists’ on the other hand sit comfortably in their academies, in their Ivory Towers, and thunder condemnation against a movement they don’t even lift a finger to build.
Derek Johnson: They definitely have been mocking as well, defunding, or police abolition, or prison abolition, that and abolishing borders, was very important to have on the DSA Platform during the election. And I saw how a lot of the class reductionists totally mocked the party for that, and you saw how Nagle and Therese and other people mocked the DSA for their positions on immigration.
Ani White: I remember, just one example but, an old Jacobin article about calls for a General Strike, where you were getting more popular calls for a General Strike that even liberals were backing, so this article said these people just want a grab-bag of demands that aren’t really working-class, and so they listed some of those demands, and it was like: universal healthcare, amnesty for migrant workers, these were all working-class demands. And the argument, which I think is ridiculous, was that people only go on strike about wages. Which is just historically not true, and it’s also not universalism, like I think Robert what you were getting at which I agree with is actually, that it’s not even about being against universalism, it’s that the universalists are not universalists. They are actually reducing their politics, and the scope of their politics, to something very provincial.
And I agree, we’re not all Leninists on this podcast, but you look at Lenin, his argument in What is to Be Done is that democratic demands are working-class demands. This was in 1905, he was arguing this in 1905, to turn up when workers are struggling for democratic rights and say well, it’s just really about the wage struggle, and just really about the economic struggle, you’re reducing the struggle for no really good reason.
What do you think is some better work on the relationship between capitalism and racism, in terms of understanding that relationship?
Robert Cuffy: I think Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump does a pretty good job of both reviewing the historical origins of the term [identity politics], and showing the ways in which Black Marxists have teased out the relationship between the two. And when I met Asad at Historical Materialism in 2018, at one of his talks he put it this way: Marxism is not only something that his been adopted by Black people and other people of colour globally, but it’s also been adapted.
So part of what the class reductionists do is, they don’t engage with the Walter Rodneys and the CLR James in any concrete way. So they don’t [inaudible] these great historical figures who’ve turned these things over and over in their heads. For example, there’s a documentary on Walter Rodney’s life called W.A.R. Stories: Walter Anthony Rodney, and in this documentary Amiri Baraka talks, for example, about how Walter Rodney comes to the United States and convinces and other significant parts of the Black Left of the value of Marxism, that it is not a European ideology, that it is a gift of human history, it’s a legacy of human history, and that to let the racism of white people keep you away from that is doing a disservice to human history.
And I really think you have to start with how these issues are played out historically. This is the same debate that’s been had in the United States since the early 20th century going on today. And the debate is, in the olden days, it was a debate of who should take the lead, is it labour who should take the lead, or Black people who should take the lead? So if you’ve ever read, for example, CLR James’ The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Question, that is a document that comes about through decades of experience and struggle within the Workers’ Party against people like Ernest Rice McKinney and Max Shachtman who were arguing labour takes the lead, and CLR James says, based on his experience as a Black man from Trinidad in the United States, travelling through the South and doing all this research and writing a weekly column that no, the Black struggle has a dynamic that propels it beyond the constraints that the rest of the working-class has. Not only that, when it goes beyond those bounds, others will follow. You can disagree with that, but if you don’t take it up concretely, and you put forward reductionist arguments, you’re doing a disservice to the same political tradition that you claim, and this is what the class reductionists have been doing.
But I think we also need to recognise that in many ways, too much air has been given to these class reductionists. Bhaskar Sunkara and Jacobin can interview Adolph Reed all they want, and have uncritical interviews with him, but at the end of the day, because they haven’t followed the grounding advice of Walter Rodney, they haven’t followed the advice of Lenin to dig their roots into the working-class, and they haven’t followed the advice of the Black Feminists to build an intersectional movement, they’re speaking into an echo-chamber more and more, and no existing part of the Black Left pays them any significant attention. Their base for the most part exists within the Philadelphia Branch of the DSA, a terribly racist city where that racism has seeped into the local DSA Branch, and where unlike other places where the DSA is where it’s at on the left, Philly is a place that they people approach with trepidation.
Derek Johnson: What’s the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement?
I think the Black Lives Matter movement is just the struggle for
Black liberation for our generation. There was the Civil Rights,
there was the Black Power movement, and this time around it’s called
Black Lives Matter. And I think the significance is that it points to
the fact that the struggle for Black liberation is indissolubly bound
up with the struggle against capitalism in this country, and has been
so from the time of the American Revolution, in which Black people
participated and won none of the rights that were granted, and the
time of the Civil War, where Black people participated and through
which the Emancipation Proclamation was given. But Juneteenth, for
example, where in Galveston Texas people didn’t find out until two
years after they were freed, is instructive. The example of
Reconstruction, a great period of US history where Black people were
able to take advantage of their new rights and get elected to the
House of Representatives for the first time, only to see all their
progress crushed when the Northern bourgeoisie made a compromise with
the South in 1877, and the troops who guarded Black people against
racist reaction were pulled out, and Jim Crow law became the rule of
the land until it was challenged by the Civil Rights movement.
And the gains the Civil Rights movement has made, and these are actual material gains in jobs, public sector jobs, to Black people, and they passed the Civil Rights Act, and other bills, the Voting Rights Act, that empowered Black people legislatively, those have withered away. So the Black Lives Matter movement is a movement that highlights the ways in which things have not changed under American capitalism. That’s the significance of it. It highlights the way in which American capitalism cannot fulfil the demands for basic democratic rights called for by Black Lives Matter.
I feel like both the Black Lives Matter movement and the Civil Rights movement went through pains to make their demands seem commonsense and simple. Like, can we vote? Or, as Black Lives Matter says, can you stop killing us? And in the historical reality of 2020, Donald Trump has made clear that he does not want Black people voting because they’re very likely to vote him out of office, and he’s made clear that he doesn’t care about police murdering Black people. So there are a lot of radical demands being raised in this movement, especially by people who call themselves abolitionists, but if the abolitionist demands are not met but also, the reformist demands can’t be met, it really points to the fact that we need a whole new society, and it points to the fact that we need, at least within spaces like the DSA, a debate about whether they can meaningfully reform this existing state structure into something that can work for Black people and working-class people
Very specifically, Black Lives Matter has shown, in the places where the struggle has erupted the most, the gaping inequality between Black people and white people in the United States, and the ways in which the state preys upon this. In Fergusson, after Michael Brown was murdered there, the rebellion showed and the investigation into the police department showed, that that municipality was ticketing Black people as a way to raise funds in a decliing society.
In the aftermath of the Baltimore uprising, where the police murdered Freddie Gray, the FBI investigation into that police department showed that the police department was robbing drug dealers, and using other community members to rob drug dealers in this declining and decaying industrial city.
And most recently, the rebellion in Minneapolis showed that while Minneapolis is popularly conceived of as a place of high culture, where one goes to see the opera and so forth, it really is a tale of two cities, one literally across the tracks, where there are areas of colour-coded poverty, Black poverty, existing side-by-side with the wealth of the city.
So Black Lives Matter in many ways pulls back the curtain on the show that is capitalism, it pulls back the veil of bourgeois democracy, it takes the velvet glove off the steel fist, and it shows that for simple demands, like Stop Killing Us, the response is National Guard troops, Federal Officers, and a more militarised police.
Derek Johnson: I’ve said just as a shorthand, looking back at the policing in this country, going back to the South Carolina slave patrols and everything, and like what Trotsky would point about the role of the police and how they’re not working-class, they obviously uphold class and oppression and police the behaviour of Black people, to me I would say most crudely that the system runs on the death of Black people. It runs on dead Black people.
And to argue, or try to negotiate with them to kill less Black people, it almost seems like an impossibility, because even when we try to protest, or even if they did less, or they’re under investigation, they literally can’t stop killing 1 or 2 Black people every 22 hours.
Robert Cuffy: And that’s the sad reality of the system right, and this killing of Black people, again I think we need to make it clear that this is a systematic issue, that it’s a necessary response of a system in crisis. And I like to put it this way: the United States has never known what to do with Black people. All these people kidnapped in Africa, forced into the Transatlantic slave trade, forcibly brought here, they killed off so many people in passage that the bodies they threw overboard were so many that they changed the migration patterns of sharks and shit.
Derek Johnson: That was a genocide in and of itself, yeah.
Robert Cuffy: Right. So the people get here, and they become part and parcel of a very plebeian working-class, where you’re like: Nope. We’re gonna enslave them, and mark them by the colour of their skin, to create a special and historic new type of slavery.
To defeat the threat of secession, and win the Civil War, they were forced to give Black people freedom. And since then they haven’t known what the hell to do with Black people! If you look at the creation of Forty Acres and a Mule for example, it comes from General Sherman tearing through the South, and marching to the Carolina Coast, and picking up a trail of liberated Black people following him, and he’s like goddammit what do I do with this trail, and he sends to Washington, and Washington sends him some advisors and the advisors say ‘why not meet with the Black community and figure what they wanna do.’ And this is how they come up with a plan to dispossess plantation owners on the Carolina Coast, and give Black people the land and the means to farm the land. Forty Acres and a Mule.
But that agreement was overturned just a few years later, and everything in that direction was overturned during Reconstruction, and then the question again becomes, what do you do with all these Black people who were formerly enslaved? And the question kind of answered itself, as capitalism developed, and these factories shot up in the North, and there was this Great Migration of Black people to the industrial North. But then as the industry decays, and people become jobless, and as the reserve army of labour becomes disproportionately peopled by Black working-class people, what do you do with all these Black people?
And if we were living in a society that was built around human needs, you could say well, let’s repair this crumbling infrastructure of a country we got, let’s put people to work, and shit we’ll even put a race quota in there to say that the people most affected by these crises should be prioritised for work.
But instead we have a society where they can’t stop killing Black people, because it’s just not in the logic of the DNA of American capitalism.
Derek Johnson: Oh yeah it’s like the creation of the New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s book with the ‘Drug War’, I mean that was just a shift from debt peonage and sharecropping and everything as a way to control the population. I think as we’re seeing the Uyghurs and others are treated in China, I kinda see that as the future for most workers in this country, if not just Black workers and people of colour in jail. The people that can’t work, we just put everybody to work in prison, that’ll be the way to solve mass unemployment and mechanisation of industry, just put us all in jail, work us that way.
The idea that they thought that, oh the second they give Blacks freedom, they’re gonna rise up and slaughter everybody, and you had Lincoln thinking of sending most of the existing people to Liberia or something, and we’re just in this continuity of a continued genocide, just like for the Native Americans and Latinx peoples, who were here before.
Robert Cuffy: I think it’s for good reason they thought that should they free the slaves they’ll rise up and kill people, because much love and respect to the former slaves of Saint Domingue, who rose up and killed all the white people, and won their revolution. Our major slave revolt in Guyana is the 1763 Berbice slave revolt, led by a guy named Cuffy. Cuffy’s major mistake was to wait to negotiate with the Dutch, and in the period he was waiting for a response from the Dutch, and just imagine this period, that you’re on the Atlantic Coast of South America, the Dutch were able to send reinforcements by sea and crush the rebellion, because that decisive action wasn’t taken. But let’s not forget the impetus the Haitian Revolution gave, and the shock it gave to the system, in [undermining] the business of slavery.
But that is the question because, unlike the Irish and the Italians, Black people in the US have never been meaningfully integrated into the system. We have not been meaningfully integrated into the middle-class. And as we stand, the middle-class itself is disintegrating. People are being pummelled back down into the working-class, and those people within the working-class who had things like job security are being pummelled down into a lower level of the working-class, into just extreme poverty. Like the millions of people unemployed, the millions of people who haven’t paid rent, in New York City for example 25% of our population have not paid rent since March. In the United States, about 30-something percent of the population has not paid their mortgages.
Our society simply is not functioning.
Derek Johnson: It’s like at this point, the economy’s not even working, it’s just being paid out, they’re just being paid with our tax money to keep the corporations rolling, and keeping Wall St rolling by buying bonds, and rinse and repeat with our taxes, and yet they cry poverty when it’s time to help anybody, and for people to now be kicked out of their homes in the millions. What do they say, three days with no meal you get a revolution?
Robert Cuffy: I mean, they say for example you should pay no more than 30% of your income towards rent. And the number of people paying more than that, and double that, is ridiculous.
Derek Johnson: In my state it’s 70 or 80. That’s impossible.
Robert Cuffy: The question is how much longer will people tolerate this?
Derek Johnson: Yeah I’m not an accelerationist, but I think they pushed it too far.
Robert Cuffy: And that’s part of the conflict within the ruling class right, to continue along this route, or to dole out some concessions, so that people get off the streets, so that people go back to their lives. But the public health crisis has complicated this, because again it calls into question the fundamental basis of this system. The fact that we claim we’re educating our children, but really what the schools serve as is a glorified daycare.
Derek Johnson: Well now they’re gonna be death camps.
Robert Cuffy: And should you reopen them, they will be death camps! But again, ‘some of you may die, and that’s a risk we’re willing to take’, which is fine in periods of peace, but in this period of turbulence, will it be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Will school reopening be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
Derek Johnson: Do you think it’s disaster to capitalism to kill public education? And that’s why DeVos is in there in the first place, and now it’s kind of a happy accident that they can kill off public education in the way that they did in New Orleans and Detroit?
Robert Cuffy: I don’t buy into the concept of disaster capitalism, but I do think that the capitalist system, at one point it runs out of options. For example, things were going well, but there was a crisis and now we have to move most production overseas, but now you’ve kinda spanned the globe and where else are you gonna go? Workers in Bangladesh, and workers in China, and other super-exploited workers, start standing up for their rights and they’re able to negotiate a higher wage, where do you go? And the only thing that’s left to do is to self-sacrifice and start eating yourself. Do you start eating into your leg to survive, and it’ll keep you going for a while, but then you’re only on one leg and you’re unstable and unbalanced.
So the idea of imperialism as capitalism entering the stage where it’s unable to grow organically is very important to keep in mind. Where the social relations of production have actually become a fetter upon the system. Where literally they have to make a choice, keep the workers healthy, or keep the workers working.
Derek Johnson: Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about. You were assaulted at a Black Lives Matter protest, can you talk about that?
Robert Cuffy: Yeah this was around June 29th, and this is my second call today talking about this assault. I’ve in many ways I’ve made peace with this, because as terribly and horrifically and violently assaulted as I was, like my shoulder was dislocated during this assault, I’ve never had a water hose turned on me, in the way in which the people in the Civil Rights movement have. I’m still here, I haven’t been killed like Walter Rodney or Courtney Crum Ewing in Guyana. But it’s the price you pay for making a sacrifice for people who are not yourself, for standing up for other people.
So on June 29th I was part of a protest that I helped organise, to defund the police, the significance was that by the next day, the 30th the New York City Council had to vote on its budget, and respond to our demand for defunding the police. And I was slammed into a car by who I’ve now identified to be a transit supervisor, and I’m telling you this story based on witness testimony, because it was so violent I don’t remember it outside of being grabbed, and wiggling away after I was saved by protesters. And they really showed me the content of the “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe” slogan, because were it not for them I would literally have suffered worse bodily damage or death. Were it not for the medics at the march, I wouldn’t have fully realised my shoulder was dislocated and that I needed medical attention. And were it not for other protesters who came to my rescue, I would’ve been, I have no idea what the police were planning to do with me, but I was in an ambulance for hours, attempting to make a police report, where the police who [let the guy who assaulted me go], were pretending they didn’t know who he was, and were coming up with lame excuses like jurisdiction to not take my police report, and gave me a devil’s choice myself of going to the hospital and getting medical care, or waiting in the ambulance for their supervising officer to take the report, with the caveat that if I went to the hospital, upon my discharge with my dislocated shoulder, I would then have to travel back to their local precinct to put the report back into effect.
Ani White: Before we move on, I was wondering if you could talk about what has happened with the campaign around that? Like how have the organisations responded to what happened?
Robert Cuffy: Yeah, so I like to see this campaign in two phases, phase two has not taken off as yet, but phase one was just to highlight and put out there that this thing happened to me, and build solidarity around that. I didn’t write myself the Solidarity statement that’s been floating around, and the first time I read it it was the first time since the incident I cried. I came out of the hospital dancing because the pain was gone kinda instantaneously once they popped my shoulder. But I cried reading that statement, understanding that people care about me, then just the number of organisations so varied that have signed onto it, as well as individuals and people who’ve continually checked up on me, offered me solidarity unconditionally has been really overwhelming.
Phase two of the campaign I see more as a legal, and movement-based thing to get justice. And the first step of that would’ve been identifying who my attacker was, since the NYPD, even though they have an officer assigned to my case, pretend they don’t know who he is. Michael K, Transit Service Supervisor with the Metropolitan Transit Association, who lives in Staten Island, is who assaulted me at that march. Turns out he was on duty, which is why he was wearing that black vest over his uniform, to cover that fact up. And moving forward from there will be me building a campaign to get people to both call, and email my assigned NYPD Officer David Roth, who has been dragging his feet on doing anything on this case, and then subsequent to that, I will be seeking legal representation to see in what ways I can get compensation for pain and suffering. I also will be able to, next week, go to a board hearing for the Metropolitan Transit Association where I will make my concerns clear, that they have someone in their midst who assaults people randomly, and if they actually check into his disciplinary record they would know that he’s done this before.
Ani White: Thanks for sharing about that, and keep us in the loop.
How has the recession affected your sector, care work, and has there been any struggle over that within the sector?
Robert Cuffy: For clarity, I work as a child welfare supervisor within the city’s administration for children’s services. I have been an employee here for about twelve years now. And it has greatly changed the way we work. We work remotely now four days of the week, and we go into the office one day, and it’s changed the entire landscape of child welfare, because the main driver of child welfare reports in the city was the Department of Education, and now that the Department of Education has itself gone to working remotely, and educating children remotely, the number of cases out there have plummeted, because they’re just not there to call in cases on people at a whim.
And in the case of domestic violence, for example, people have pointed out the ways in which women have been left to suffer at the hands of their abusers, and people tend to assume that there’s a similar dynamic happening within the child welfare system, but I think more than anything COVID-19 has shown the ways in which the child welfare system is used as a system of regulation against working-class, poor and especially Black and Latin people here in New York City. Because there are no indicators of extreme or increased abuse of children happening, there are no indicators of increased neglect of children, and the whole point is that there’s a very fine line between issues of neglect and poverty. If for example a parent is unable to feed or clothe their child, if the other city agencies responsible for filling those gaps, like the Department of Human Resources which controls welfare, is not taking steps towards addressing those needs, then I don’t think there’s a way that parent can be meaningfully held responsible.
In addition to that, of course those of us in the workplace have had our various struggles in how we carry the job through. We thought, for example, that one proposal that was floated which was that in-person visits was going to be imminent. Not only was that not the case, they wanted us to continue doing visits, and they refused to provide us with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the gloves and mask, N95 masks especially needed to get the job done. In fact, they were providing us with disposable masks that they were asking us to reuse, with no consideration for the fact that as people who do home visits from home to home, we could then become vectors of the transmission of the virus. What we did get was expired hand sanitiser for example, and they were very upset when I spoke to the news about them giving us expired hand sanitiser.
Sadly, our union has been not on-the-ball on these questions, and I have had to be the one to advocate with management for things like masks for my co-workers. When I reached out to mutual aid networks to get masks, there was an attempt to discipline me by management for doing this, by saying ‘you reached out to an inappropriate source, an inappropriate vendor, you don’t have the proper clearances to get masks from these people’, and by then I’d just gotten the masks and given them to my co-workers, because how ridiculous the bureaucracy is within systems under capitalism, you can never really plumb the depths of it, there’s always something new.
So I got pulled into a disciplinary hearing with my supervisor, managing director, with a union rep, and he said ‘how has Robert violated the Code of Conduct of this agency?” And the best they could come up with was, I violated the chain of command by speaking to the media, because I didn’t address the concerns with them. And then I pointed out a floor meeting we had where the commissioner, manager and supervisor were all present and these concerns were raised by not just me but everyone else, to the point where it nearly became a damn riot, and they never responded to us, so that whole proceeding got dashed, to the point that they’re now coming to me for advice about how to make the workplace a better place.
But experiences of me, as someone who’s a unionised worker, is very different from people within the child welfare, the social services sector, who work within the nonprofit sector that’s not unionised, where they’re still being asked to go into the office, they’re still being asked to do home visits, and not being provided with PPE.
And in addition to that we have, hanging over our heads, significant cuts to social services as a result of the austerity budget that’s being pushed upon us, including cuts to 22,000 public sector jobs between now and October.
Ani White: You were involved in May Day actions this year, how did that go?
Robert Cuffy: The People’s Strike Network, which came about from a call by Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi and Black Socialists of America, is something that I’ve been involved in, and got involved in April. An ask at the time was to build towards a General Strike on May 1st, in certain historical circumstances you can call for a strike on Sunday and get it on Monday, these were not those circumstances. A call for a General Strike in April would not materialise one on May 1st. But I did think it was important nonetheless to honour International Workers’ Day during a time when working-class people were [facing] genocide, by the virus of the criminal indifference of the ruling class.
We were able to build really successful actions, we built a car caravan that converged on the Governor’s Office in Manhattan. And that car caravan came from the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens at the time representing the parts of the city hit hardest by COVID, and it was a pretty successful action. We supported other actions around the city, including a walkout of the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, so coming out of that we were able to form a coalition called the Fight For Our Lives Coalition in New York City, as part of the People’s Strike Network, and we’ve been holding several protests since then.
We were able to plan for a protest on the 1st of June. And we had to decide weeks in advance, what was going to be the theme of the protest, and we planned to protest against the fact that the NYPD was being used to regulate social distancing, and there were several horrific incidents of them caught on tape of them physically attacking black people who were alleged to be violating the social distancing measures. In fact this one officer, Francisco Garcia from the Police Service Area 4, which polices public housing, he was being filmed by this guy Donnie Wright, as Garcia was attacking Shakiem Brunson and Ashley Serrano for allegedly not wearing a mask and gathering outside. And Garcia then turns on Donnie, attacks him, says stupid misogynistic and patriarchal shit like ‘don’t flex’, and wrestles him to the ground and sits on his head in a way not dissimilar to how Chauvin sat on George Floyd’s neck, and we planned a protest around that on the same corner where it happened.
Our intention was to march a few blocks away to the precinct, but in the intervening weeks George Floyd had been murdered, and the dozens or hundreds of people we expected to show up turned into thousands, and we impromptu led a march to One Police Plaza, which had an incredible amount of energy, which pulled people out along the route from public housing who joined the march, we had gang members join the march. Once we got to One Police Plaza the energy was so high it could not be dissipated, [so] the march ended up taking a major highway along the East side of Manhattan, the FDR Highway, and we were able to pull all of this off, which was pretty incredible. But also that day, June 1st marked the first week of the curfew here in New York City, so things really intensified then as people deliberately stayed out on the streets chanting “Fuck Your Curfew!” and challenging the Police Commissioner and the Mayor’s attempt to squash the movement.
Subsequent to that we were able to organise a Defund The NYPD contingent at the Juneteenth march that was being held at City Hall, and I have no idea what happened at the planning of that actual march, but at one point after a speakout, people started chanting ‘We’re Done Waiting! We’re Done Waiting!’ and because my group were leading the speakout, we were able to just lead the march where we wanted to, onto a different route ending in Washington Square Park, where it was then joined by a protest of 5,000 other people who had marched all the way from Brooklyn. I couldn’t even keep up, I had to go home, but that march ended up all the way in Time Square for example, if that reference helps people, it went all the way from Downtown Manhattan, where the streets have no numbers, or the streets begin to have numbers, like 1-2 all the way up to 42nd Street. Pretty incredible.
We planned a Defund NYPD protest, we co-planned that with the DSA, and that went pretty well outside of one person’s dislocated shoulder. I have not let my dislocated shoulder stop me, I was also able to help plan a 4th of July, the significance of which was that we led it through the communities most affected by police violence, and we had an incredible enthusiastic response from the communities, as people joined us for speakouts, as children from the community joined the march, as we were able to get numbers of the community to both join us and uplift their own voices and struggles and experiences with the community.
We’ve been building ever since, most recently we did a teach-in on decriminalising sex work, last week Saturday, that was led by a black sex worker, and a black trans woman, TS Candii who gave an incredible presentation that gave a personal narrative of both her transition and her outcasting from her family, and the way in which she’s had to engage in sex work to survive, and the way in which our society criminalises sex worker and as a result puts her and other sex workers and trans women in an incredible amount of danger. The ways in which bills like FOSTA-SESTA claim to be fighting child sex trafficking actually take away a platform sex workers have for screening clients and keeping themselves safe.
So the Fight For Our Lives Coalition is one of the most interesting, and exciting things I’ve been engaged in, in NYC and it’s really shaping up as a true United Front of people who disagree with eachother but build towards common actions that keep the protest movement alive.
Ani White: We’re both part of an international group called the Transnational Solidarity Network, a more modest group. Can you talk about that?
Robert Cuffy: I like its modesty, in that it acknowledges its limited reach, but also one of the most exciting things about the Transnational Solidarity Network is that it’s truly transnational. We have members all across the globe, working towards not only a general common cause, to make the world a great place, but with a framing of fighting against the rising authoritarianism that’s happening, and creating a space on the left for these fights, and creating a space on the left where authoritarian figures in the Global South are critically examined, as opposed to lauded simply because they may claim to be progressives, or claim to be socialists of one side or the other.
Our website (transnationalsolidarity.net) showcases the writing of people around the world. I was lucky enough to publish my piece on the Floyd Rebellion there. And a forthcoming podcast will feature the voices of not only the voices of the Solidarity Network’s members, but people who have been activated into struggle by these triple-crises of COVID-19, unemployment, and police terror that we’ve seen lately. Transnational Solidarity Network is definitely a place people should plug into.
Derek Johnson: So, what is to be done?
Robert Cuffy: We need, out of these struggles, to build a layer of leadership that is rooted in the community most affected by the issues of the struggle. There was a time when I considered myself a socialist, when I was around 18 or 20 and I’d go into rooms and I’d look around and go maybe that person is in charge, and I’d go up to them and ask them a question. And I’ve come to a point where people look around and they see me, and they come up and they ask the questions, and leadership is something that’s been thrust upon myself, and a generation of people who’ve been socialists and who’ve critically examined the world and radical alternatives, prior to the Bernie and the Trump and the AOC bumps. And as such we have a responsibility to share with others what we know, and try to craft a movement so that it avoids pitfalls of the illusion that the system can be meaningfully revamped without a mass struggle, that we find ways to bring larger sectors of people into the struggle, and understand that we cannot in any meaningful way substitute ourselves for a thoroughgoing mass movement.
So I think it’s a matter of cadre and organisation, of building up amongst people whom you trust, and people with whom you can study this historical moment, with whom you can disagree with, debate and discuss questions, sharpen and refine your analysis, all the while doing the slow and hard work of building and implanting yourselves into the communities where its members can be part of the struggle.
Understanding that the struggle doesn’t go up and up forever, there may be ebbs and lows in the struggle, and as those Dog Days come around it is the cadre and the organisation that you build that will help you survive it, and as the struggle enters into periods of uptick again, it is the cadres and the organisation that you build that will prepare you to be in the position not to be overwhelmed by it, but so you can ride the tide and try and guide the struggle, towards a direction of people understanding their agency, and their role as agents of change, and agents who have both built this society, and who can bring it to a screeching halt for things like justice for George Floyd.
Ani White: Thanks very much for coming on the show.
Robert Cuffy: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Ani White: Thanks for tuning in listeners, if you enjoyed this episode please consider contributing to our patreon at patreon.com/jetpack1917. Every little counts. Social distance, mask up, wash your damn hands, and-
Derek Johnson: We’ll see you in the future.