By Greg Butterfield
This group of Black and Brown teenagers, not much younger than me, had been framed up just a year before. The New York Police Department forced them to confess to the brutal rape of a white woman. These youths and their communities were demonized by the media and politicians, both conservative and liberal.
Leading the charge against them was a wealthy real-estate developer named Donald Trump, who took out a full-page ad in one of the city’s leading newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty, to be used against the Five. Trump never missed an opportunity to harangue them in the media.
The Central Party Five case made Donald Trump a national celebrity.
Despite the community’s determined organizing, led by Pan African revolutionary Elombe Brath, despite our ongoing protests and exposures of the criminal conduct of the police, prosecution and media, the Five were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.
Eventually the true perpetrator of the rape confessed and after another long battle, the Five were finally freed.
But the impact of the case was long-lasting, and hardly accidental. The campaign waged against them was an essential stepping stone in the New York ruling class’s efforts to “redevelop” large swaths of the city, forcing mostly Black and Brown working class and poor communities out, while escalating police power, turning much of Manhattan (and later Brooklyn, and now parts of Queens and the Bronx) into a kind of gated community for rich, white gentrifiers.
The tactic that began in New York spread out across the country, and eventually to Europe as well.
Trump led the charge against the Central Park Five, not only because he is racist bigot of the worst sort – which he most certainly is – but because he knew it would be profitable for him to do so.
|Protest at Trump Tower in New York, June 14, 2016.
Photo: Greg Butterfield
Two (class) war criminals
Those of us who have been fighting Trump for years, even decades, understand that he is a war criminal of the first order – in the domestic class war — just as Hillary Clinton is guilty of war crimes abroad.
The 2016 presidential election is frequently characterized as unprecedented and down-right bizarre. So imagine how it looks to people living outside the United States, especially in countries like Russia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, the Donbass republics, and many others, which have been demonized, subjected to sanctions, Western-sponsored terror and drone bombings, or even open warfare.
It many come as a surprise to many activists in the U.S., who in recent years have been embroiled in the Black Lives Matter struggle, the fight to defend refugees and immigrants, and the battle to raise the minimum wage, that many people abroad, including some opponents of U.S. imperial power, could view Donald Trump as the “lesser evil.”
But right now, millions around the world are afraid of the consequences of the escalating confrontation between the U.S. and Russia – including the possibility of open warfare or even a nuclear exchange — over Washington’s plans for regime change in Syria, its support for the far-right junta in Ukraine, and the further expansion of NATO militarism to Russia’s Western border.
Before this election campaign, Trump never once spoke out against U.S. economic and military aggression anywhere in the world. He supported the scapegoating of Muslims and others after the 9/11 attacks in New York, which laid the basis for the invasion of Iraq and the entire “war on terror.”
But Trump is a canny enough politician to know that Democrats’ ongoing war crimes in Libya, Iraq and Syria are an easy target.
He is also highly selective in his “anti-war” declarations. While cultivating a reputation as seeking cooperation with Russia, he has threatened war against China, Syria, Palestine, and Mexico, to name just a few.
To put it bluntly, there is a sector of U.S. white supremacists that supports isolationism and friendship with Russia because they view it as a “white man’s nation.” This is the basis of Trump’s appeals on the issue.
But Trump is running for office to represent the U.S. imperialist ruling class, which has devoted decades of effort to breaking up and taking over the Russian Federation, and is in no mood to back down now.
Even if President Trump was sincere in his overtures of “friendship” with Russia, he would be one relatively small oligarch representing a whole class. He would do their bidding, just as Obama does, despite whatever personal misgivings he may have.
Trump — an oligarch claiming to be a populist enemy of the elite, a stirrer-up of racism and national chauvinism, posing as a friend of peace? Who could fall for such a thing?
Sadly, it seems, just as many as can fall for Clinton — a war criminal who was part of the campaign to criminalize and scapegoat society’s most oppressed and downtrodden — posing as the last defense of the rights of women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and African American people.
And for the same reason – fear.
Many workers and progressives in the U.S. feel compelled to support Hillary Clinton despite their better judgement – and some even fall into the trap of desperately trying to justify her behavior, embracing conspiracy theories about Russian “interference,” out of fear of Trump’s fascist-tinged campaign.
In the U.S., we are more accustomed to this kind of “lesser-evilism” on behalf of the Democratic Party.
But this year, there are many workers and progressives abroad (and to a lesser extent, in the U.S. as well), who seem driven to the same kind of desperate behavior in support of Trump, excusing his misogyny and racism, while embracing their own conspiracy theories – including some that target Black Lives Matter, or the women coming forward against Trump’s sexual abuse, as “creations” of Clinton and her supporters meant to help steal the election from him.
It’s a tough thicket to cut through. There’s only one way to navigate it: with class consciousness.
As Workers World Party’s campaign manager Teresa Gutierrez wrote recently, we have to “put on our class-conscious glasses.”
Divide and conquer is always the strategy of the U.S. ruling class. In this case, it is to divide the international struggles against war from the domestic struggle against racism and national oppression.
The danger that exists is that, at a critical moment, these struggles against U.S. imperialism – which should be natural allies – will be posed against one another as enemies. And only imperialism can benefit from that.
We must remind the workers and progressive forces at home and abroad that the only guarantee against catastrophic war is the building of a militant, united fightback against capitalism.
We must patiently and firmly warn the international anti-war and anti-imperialist movement against the trap Trump has laid for them, just as we warn against the trap Clinton has set for the struggles against racism, sexism and anti-LGBTQ oppression at home.
Those who truly want peace, who want to see U.S. aggression defeated, need to make common cause with the struggles for justice being waged inside the U.S.
We must be brave enough to swim against the tide of lesser-evilism, whatever form it takes, and have the courage to tell the truth to the workers of the world, even at the risk of standing temporarily as a voice in the wilderness.
This is an urgent task of anti-imperialists and anti-war activists, of anti-fascists and all revolutionaries in the U.S. at this moment.