Democrats are fond of citing the infamous Powell Memo as the founding document of the late 20th and early 21st century Republican Party and the extraordinary evil that has befallen the country, indeed the world, as a result.

Fair enough.

But current Democrats of the progressive stripe have a much fuzzier concept of how their own party has been captured by the same forces that Powell sought to promote, i.e. the neoliberal, militarist element that now also dominates the Democratic Party despite the political views of the party's membership.

Oddly enough, the recently intense focus on Bayard Rustin, former Communist Party USA member, former Socialist Party member, and finally, enthusiastic Democrat, can go a long way toward revealing how the Democratic Party has betrayed its democratic roots (small "d"!) from the time of Jefferson, its populist roots from the time of Jackson, and its socialist roots from the time of Franklin Roosevelt.

Rustin was one of the chief organizers of the "March on Washington."  For that alone, he is worthy of respect and historical accolades.  What is being noted now, quite appropriately, is that Rustin was not only black, but also gay. As a white heterosexual, I can only imagine his level of alienation from the American society of his time.

He was a Communist when the Communist Party of his time advocated the creation of a new communist state in the southeastern United States that would be dominated by the majority black (at that time) population.  Fair enough.  I can only laugh at how Dylan's "Maggie" would have felt about that.

When 1972 arose, Rustin was confronted with an impossible situation.  On one side were the McGovernites.  We were mostly young, white and opposed to the Vietnam War.  We happily espoused many of the same values that Rustin must have held dearly like equality for gays.

But we had disdain for the white working class, especially male, working class whites, that had made up the core of the Democratic Party since FDR.

The McGovernites' dislike for the older, working class whites was not without reason.  They supposedly (according to the Media) supported the Vietnam War as if it were a war against the Nazis.  They supposedly resisted every cultural change.  They supposedly supported racist policies in their unions and their government.  George Meany, the head of the AFL-CIO, was a fine representative of this image.  Those of us who worked for McGovern at the local level encountered less infamous individuals of the same ilk.

Rustin, a Marxist at heart, saw the problem.  On top of that, he was a Quaker who eschewed violence, both as an activist and as American citizen who refused induction into the military.  The Democratic Party's mission, he believed, lay in the advocacy on behalf of the working class.  Everything else would follow.  On this, he vociferously opposed the also much esteemed Michael Harrington, who advocated an identity group approach to politics.

No violence.  Egalitarianism.  Those were core for Rustin.  That's how he could work with such a broad coalition of people.  He was also skeptical of identity politics, recognizing how it could destroy working class advocacy.

Rustin lost.  While the Democratic Party elite labored mightily to reject the McGovernite image, it embraced identity politics.  Today, the party and all it's media outlets do their best to exploit racial, gender and ethic differences just as the Republicans do.  The goal is to divide workers so that they do not unite to defeat those who exploit them.  The message is an essentially united one on behalf of the elites:

"Do not trust your fellow worker unless they're the same gender and race as you."

Bayard Rustin didn't believe that.  Neither should you.

Perhaps we should be celebrating how Bayard Rustin foresaw how identity politics based on racial, gender, sexual orientation and ethnic differences, could divide the working class to the advantage of the plutocrats.

Originally posted to OutcastsAndCastoffs on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 02:51 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.



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