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“There’s no justice in the courts. We are always taking shorts. They can shoot us like a sport. And it’s our trust that they want? Don’t fall for it…”

LUMPENPROLETARIAT—Happy holidays from KRS-One! The legendary MC has dropped a new album on YouTube, which we can all enjoy for free! And this is a good thing because we’re all too broke to buy anything, anyway, especially since the police state response to the COVID-19 outbreak gratuitously drove our economy off of a cliff.  Thanks to my brother, Ramon David, for updating me on this exciting piece of news. It seems Kris just posted the full album a few days ago.

When Boogie Down Productions released their new video for “My Philosophy”, many of us thought that was the coolest hip hop video we’d ever seen. And “My Philosophy” was the coolest rap song many of us had ever heard. It simply blew our minds. It was easily my favorite track of the year—1988. The song and the groove is just so fonky that even the most repressed spirit will be liberated by it, and get loose and get free. For me, KRS-One was one of the few MCs I knew of, who somehow made a ton of sense philosophically, politically, and spiritually, despite being so hard.  I thought Chuck D was hard, too.  But, perhaps, I could relate more to KRS-One’s humanism versus Chuck’s black nationalism. Somehow, KRS-One was hard without straying into villainy, not that Chuck D, Paris, et al. did. Don’t get me wrong; I’m always gonna be a fan of MC Ren, MC Eiht, even MCs like Brotha Lynch Hung.

But KRS-One taught me, as a young teen, how to poise myself with strength within a culture of “soft violence” without eroding my humanity, without becoming callous.  I was always a fan of the Native Tongues tribe. [1] 

I’m borrowing that term—“soft violence”—from a Sean Penn interview I read once, where he described his Californian upbringing in Southern California, navigating the suburban streets, at times with his fists.  Skateboard kids would invade empty backyards with empty swimming pools to skate.  Turf tensions ensued, not unlike Kubrick’s simian watering hole in 2001‘s “Dawn of Man”.  Only, instead of a sun-bleached bone hurling in space morphing into a space ship, it’d be a banana board being hurled by victorious teenaged purveyors of “soft violence” in the suburbs celebrating the conquest of their skating bowl.  It would seem the Hobbesian pursuit of self-interest, of “war of all against all“, is the same where ever you go.  Sean Penn’s descriptions reminded me a lot of my Californian upbringing in Northern California.

I’ll play the nine and you play the target
You all know my name; so I guess I’ll just start it
Or should I say start this, ‘cos teaching I’m the artist
Styles and new concepts at their hardest
Yo, ‘cos I’m a teacher; and Scott is a scholar
It ain’t about money ‘cos we all make dollars
That’s why I walk with my head up
When I hear whack rhymes, I get fed up
Rap is like a set-up, a lot of games
A lot of suckers with colorful names
I’m so-and-so; I’m this, I’m that
Huh, but they all just wick-wick-whack
I’m not white or red or black, I’m brown
From the Boogie Down…

Naturally, I memorized every single word of “My Philosophy” when I first heard it back in 1988.  Rapping was fun as fuck, especially freestyling.  It still is, if you still got it.  (Of my rapping classmates in ’88, I remember Ayodele, Andre, Panch, Juan G., et al.  Pam the Funkstress, of The Coup fame, could be found around the King Center in my hometown of San Mateo.  So, we were hip to The Coup early on.  We also had Totally Insane in East Palo Alto, R.B.L. Posse in San Francisco, Too $hort in Oakland, E-40 in Vallejo, we had Paris and Guerilla Funk, all kind of Bay Area hip hop, later Hieroglyphics, et al…)  But “My Philosophy” was so infectious.  And it all made so much sense.  It just felt correct.  KRS-One was the shit. And, guess what; he is back. Happy Holidays from KRS-One. Here is a brand new album, free of charge, a gift to America and the world.

I don’t battle young rappers, that’s child abuse.

Whooooo! Blastmaster KRS is back with straight fire. It’s like the second coming, or the second Return of the Boom Bap. 2020 wouldn’t be complete without KRS-One dropping some real talk in the year that Black Lives Matter founders, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, collectively made the TIME 2020 100 list of the 100 most influential people of the year.

Indeed. Without question, Black Lives Matter, as a protest movement is today one of the most important movements for the advancement of true, participatory democracy, not just for demanding justice for fascist policing, extrajudicial killing with impunity, and police terrorism, which perpetually results in the gunning down of black and brown. But it’s what happens Between Da Protests that matters.

Blastmaster KRS-One blasts liberals and the new crop of people of color joining the Republican Party on “Don’t Fall For It”.  “Reps and Dems are the same,” he blasts.  And he corrects our naivete, “America ain’t really sick; this is what it is.”  Echoing the sentiments of Run The Jewels about the extent of liberal anger amounting to a Twitter rant, then back to the status quo.  KRS-One raps, “Do not tell me what you’re gonna do; I see what you did…”  Indeed.  Actions speak louder than words.  The best indication of future behavior is past behavior.  Even some of my own childhood friends from San Mateo, who I thought would be eternally “conscious” have fallen for the political theater of Trump and Pelosi. They can’t see that it’s a two-party dictatorship, like Ralph Nader has been saying for decades. And some act like know-it-alls because there is no dialogue, no dialectic.  Only opinions and minions.  This is not democracy. This is not even politics anymore, as Dr. Peter Dale Scott has argued. When democracies fail, politics fails.  Politics devolves into culture wars. When even culture wars fail, we’re done. There will only be the abuse of institutional power from above. As Alexa O’ Brien warned us during the Occupy Wall Street days: The culture wars are over. Everyone lost.

That’s electoral politics. But as long as we have truth-tellers, like Alexa O’ Brien and KRS-One, around, humanity still has a chance of overpowering these dark, corporate forces, who dare to challenge the power of our mighty ship of state, as one historic voice once said.

“I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

― Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Volume 10: 1 May 1816 to 18 January 1817

But this “aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare” to “challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country”, has not stopped trying to wrest political power from the state since then. At a certain point, the most powerful industrialists of the late Victorian age, the tuxedoed, top-hat-wearing, so-called robber barons of America, turned against the state, as author Susan Berfield noted on Letters and Politics, discussing her book, The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism. She pointed out how industrialists, the capitalists, such as J.P. Morgan, didn’t mind the state, when it worked in their interest. But such powerful men have rarely had any patience with the democratic process.

But when Roosevelt tried to make the government function as a sincere representative of the people, the capitalists, decided they had to respond by developing an anti-statist philosophy, which seeks to undermine the state in order to supplant representative democratic power with their own oligarchic rule. Since the beginning of the nation, the USA, has always had a tension between the state and the most powerful entities, such as large corporations, or royal charters, and later industrialists, later Wall Street and Silicon Valley. When the USA first began, we had wilderness and mud. The men, who got shit done, unfortunately, were hard men. Like the movie, There Will Be Blood. Sometimes things require grit. But we, being the flawed human beings that we are, tend to overshoot. It’s hard to put the lion back in the cage, once you let him out. It’s difficult to cage the animal spirits. I think of my own father; and what he had to overcome to provide his family with a better life than he had been provided. I think of my own experience. I think of my kids. Life is hard.

Big enough to bail out the US, buy in a President & build the first billion dollar company. Meet JP Morgan.

https://www.history.co.uk/biographies/j-p-morgan, accessed 24 DEC 2020

Our young nation’s infrastructure could not have been advanced by the state at that time, during the late Victorian Age, at least not with their resources, not with their aristocratic economic ideas. So, the railroads and the oil mines were built, basically, by gangsters, who ended up forming cartels. Let’s face it. That’s what monopolistic competition is. When you have a few players controlling an industry, you have a cartel. They can fix prices and fix everything through collusion. In fact, it was J.P. Morgan, who first got the bright idea of forming the original American cartel. He said to the other tycoons of his day, let’s not fight amongst ourselves. We’ll be more successful if we stick together and rig the system in our favor. So, they did. The idea also occurred to Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, aka El Jefe de Jefes (“The Boss of Bosses”), a convicted drug lord. Gallardo was one of the founders of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1970s. At its height, the Cartel controlled much of the drug trafficking in Mexico and the corridors along the Mexico–United States border.

But, in the Late Victorian Age, we had the JP Morgan Cartel. But instead of shame and disgrace, it was showered with praise and political power, despite causing harm to society. Cartels, which seem to be an inevitable result of capitalist modes of production, always cause harm to society. “The process of creating a monopoly through the elimination of competition and the maximisation of profits by slashing the workforce and reducing their wages is named after JP Morgan.” It’s called Morganization.

cf., https://www.afr.com/companies/financial-services/jpmorgan-admitted-to-gentlemen-s-agreement-behind-alleged-cartel-20200213-p540g2

cf., https://www.afr.com/companies/financial-services/jpmorgan-took-a-bet-each-way-on-cartel-accusation-court-told-20200720-p55dpa

In fact, President Roosevelt was the first American president to stand up to the power of corporations and cartels. Our nation was never intended to be a sincere democracy. Aristocrats founded America. And they always intended to maintain power, to bridle the unruly masses. The people were considered illiterate and irrelevant by the American ruling class, the aristocracy, what Dr. Peter Phillips calls The Global Power Elite. When Alexis de Tocqueville travelled through America in the 1830s, he was skeptical that Americans would be able to keep their democracy together because of their illiteracy and hedonism coming out of the American Revolution as uneducated peasants.  As Benjamin Franklin soberly stated in 1787.  “There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.” The brevity of that response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.”

At- the time of de Tocqueville’s visit, political parties in America were undergoing great change as old ones died out and new ones emerged. The most significant development was the birth of the Democratic Party under the leadership of Andrew Jackson, elected president in 1828.

De Tocqueville observed a “constant agitation of parties,” each attempting to draw voters over to its side. In his notes he wrote that a party candidate “. . . must haunt the taverns, drink and argue with the mob; that is what is called Electioneering in America.”

De Tocqueville leveled some of his sharpest criticism against American political leaders themselves. He became convinced that outstanding men avoided elected office in order to pursue their private ambitions and careers. Those who did seek public office, he believed, were often poorly educated and open to corruption.

In one of his notebooks, de Tocqueville ridiculed Congressman Davy Crockett as a man “…who had received no education, could read only with difficulty, had no property, no fixed dwelling, but spent his time hunting, selling his game for a living, and spending his whole life in the woods.”

But instead of work to educate the American peasants or increase literacy, American mythology romanticized Davey Crockett’s outdoorsman spirit.  After the Cuban Revolution, one of the first things the Cuban leaders did was send teachers out into the countryside to teach the peasants how to read.  What did the American aristocratic leaders do after the American Revolution, in terms of leadership of the peasantry?  Reinforce racism and slavery?

The American Revolution was, in its time, a radical event. Never before had a colonial people, who lived on what was then viewed as the fringe of the civilized world, risen up and thrown off an imperial power. Not only did the Revolution dispose of the King and parliament, it established a new government whose founding document, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, proclaimed universal human equality and the right to revolution when any government fails in its duty to protect basic rights.

It established a written constitution which asserted that the people are the ultimate repository of power. And it established a Bill of Rights, much under attack these days, that guaranteed basic democratic rights—the freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly; the right to be secure from government searches; the prohibition of torture. A republican revolution, it shattered the aristocratic principle, feudal economic structures such as primogeniture and entail, and drove out of the colonies the courtiers, King’s favorites and Loyalists, and in this way was a revolution “not just over home rule, but who would rule at home,” as one historian put it long ago.

The American Revolution made incarnate the thought of the Enlightenment, the period of intellectual rebirth that undermined the divinely sanctioned feudal order of the Middle Ages, and that grew in tandem with the incipient capitalist economy. Just as scientists—natural philosophers as they were then called—such as Copernicus, Galileo and Newton challenged the feudal-religious conception of the natural world, so Enlightenment political philosophers began to raise questions about the political world—but not the social, which was only dimly understood prior to Marx. Why did kings rule? What was the purpose of government? What were the rights of man? Ultimately, in answer to these questions, the Enlightenment established that there existed natural rights—that is, rights that preceded government, or that exist in a state of nature.

WSWS, November 2019

The American Revolution may have celebrated Enlightenment ideals.  The so-called Founding Fathers may have pondered upon the rights of man, but they didn’t give a damn about the rights of slaves.  Perhaps, Thomas Paine stands alone among that bunch of revolutionaries as the only one enlightened enough to not only be pro-democracy, anti-monarchy, but also anti-slavery.  It’s true the social world was “only dimly understood prior to Marx”.  But “Marx, like generations of socialists, saw the particularly capitalist character of the New World’s slavery — and the inextricable link between the emancipation of the enslaved and the liberation of the entire working class.”  Our so-called Founding Fathers clearly did not.  Those aristocrats never wanted to see the link.  And they didn’t want the peasantry to see the link, either.  If they did, they would have launched a literacy campaign, like the Cubans did after their revolution.

Meanwhile, back to the future, JPMorgan still doing dirt…

Before Theodore Roosevelt began questioning the status quo, American presidents thought Morganization was a great thing. They saw prosperity spreading into the hinterlands via the railroads, the internet of the day. And they thought the capitalist cartels were the bees knees. They couldn’t foresee what George Orwell or Hannah Arendt or Naomi Wolff or Peter Dale Scott would foresee. The interesting thing is how Dr. Peter Dale Scott shows us how those robber barons, those aristocrats, have lorded over our society. For example, David Rockefeller is famous for being a successful American banker at Chase. But few know Rockefeller was also Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Very few even know what the Council on Foreign Relations even is, or why it matters to them. And even less is known about Rockefeller’s military background, which, includes military intelligence, “setting up political and economic intelligence units” in North Africa and France (he was fluent in French) during World War II, and “assistant military attaché at the American Embassy in Paris. During this period, he called on family contacts and Standard Oil executives for assistance.” Fast forward to Trump, “Take the oil! Take the oil! Take the oil!”, before a rabid crowd foaming at the mouth. Not much has changed.

This is what happens Between Da Protests.

When it comes to the industrialists or robber barons, younger people will be more aware of the monopoly guy, than say David Rockefeller or J.P. Morgan. The real, historical American abusers of power are obfuscated and replaced with a benign caricature—“Rich Uncle Penny Bags“, the friendly banker, who showers you with cash, simply for passing “Go”, not unlike what is happening today. Heterodox economics has had an impact on neoclassical economics because the way that the monetary system truly works can no longer be denied. Neoclassical economists and conservative types have long argued that public spending for public good or public purpose would be inflationary. Modern Money Theory, or Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has shown how our money system actually works. And it has been proven true, as the government has created tons of bailout cash without the feared inflation. But the wealthiest got millions and billions, as the bottom got hundreds or thousands. Inequality, it seems, must always be preserved.

#MMT cash relief crumbs are being thrown out the windows of their leer jets as they fly over COVID-infected America to their gated green zones in the Calabasas mountains and whatnot. Those with the least get the least, for some reason. They get those measly checks. They are what rich people think is a lot of money to poor people. Wow! Look! Here’s $600! Those with a little more, get a little more. For example, if you own a small business, the CARES Act is providing paycheck protection. So, the comfortable middle class, especially those with small business and a few workers are happy with the bailout. It seems to be working for them. They don’t see what all the fuss is with over there in the poorer communities, in the ghettoes. Right-wing radio will tell them it’s their own fault for their own personal decisions. Then, when you get to the level of university courses, you learn about sociology and economics and stuff like that; and you realize the world is much more complex than we imagined. But, for some, simple schemas simplify things, but at unfortunate costs.

And what political theater we are witnessing, aren’t we? The absurdity is appalling. The news headline Friday was: Trump demands an increase to Pelosi’s measly $600 cash relief to $2,000. But what nobody was saying—not even top Dems, only low level Dems—was that the Republican Party had their chance to weigh in on the size of the proposed covid-lockdown-economic-crash cash relief checks. And Mitch McConnell blocked Dems at every turn. Yet, now, the headline is the Republicans will save the day? No. If Trump or Pelosi or AOC or the Republican Party or the Democrat Party or any of them cared about the American people, they would pass Medicare For All.

KRS-One says, “Don’t Fall For It”…

“The whole system’s a set-up!” “We’ve been about this revolution from the time we met up… Malcolm X in ’88… You are great. They are fake. Now, it’s time to demonstrate. Higher level mental states, conscious people congregate, show the love, not the hate. This is basic, no debate…

When Boogie Down Productions released their new video for “My Philosophy, many of us thought that was the coolest hip hop video we had ever seen. And “My Philosophy” was the coolest rap song many of us had ever heard. It simply blew our minds. The song and the groove is just so funky that even the most repressed spirit will be liberated and get loose and get free. KRS-One was the hardest MC I knew, KRS-One taught me how to poise myself with strength within a culture of “soft violence” without eroding my humanity, without becoming callous. I grew up in a culture of “soft violence”, not unlike the suburban memories of actor Sean Penn, who described growing up in California and having to learn how to defend yourself in the streets with your fists. When I was a kid, fistfights were inevitable sometimes. And most kids formed little cliques, even in suburban neighborhoods. Everybody tried to act all hard back then.

I remember one rather epic conflagration in an alleyway across the street from the McDonald’s on El Camino Real & Barneson Avenue in San Mateo, down the street from Borel Middle School. Two of the most popular kids in school had agreed to a fistfight afterschool.  This must have been 1988.  Many of my friends wore African medallions made of leather and, sometimes, rope chains of gold.  We all wanted fat gold chains, especially rope chains, just like Eric B & Rakim.  I think even Italians in Jersey and whatnot were rockin’ the style.  I was so spoiled that my parents bought me a gold rope chain, working-class thickness, though.  Let’s just say rope chains were in.  But so were the African medallions inspired by the conscious rap music and culture of the time.  Also in style, were the preppy fashions of Gotcha shorts, Swatch watches, Billabong gear, Sperry’s boating shoes, and other preppy trappings.  Admittedly, that was basically my attire in sixth grade at Borel. (Then, I gradually became cholo-ized, perhaps.  Lol.)

But back to our narrative, my peers were sly enough to organize this afterschool fight between two of the most popular kids in school without any adults finding out.  One was black.  The other was white.

The San Mateo McDonald’s on El Camino Real would usually be jam-packed with afterschool kids on a regular afternoon.  On this particular day, it was packed.  McDonald’s could barely handle all the business.  Unsupervised after-school kids were bouncin’ off the walls, getting their fill of cheeseburgers and fries before the big fight.  It’s something that virtually the entire school knew this fight would happen, but not one kid told one adult.  The fight actually went a few rounds.  Both fighters fought valiantly and ferociously, although the white kid was taller.  The fight took place in an alleyway across the street.  A huge flash mob of kids encircled and concealed the teenaged gladiators before they engaged in several rounds of fisticuffs and before cops drove by and dispersed us kids.

That was 1988.  Racial tensions simmered under the surface of waning 1980s materialism and naïve American giddiness.  The following year, Spike Lee would release the historically-significant film, Do The Right Thing, in which the microcosm of one New York City neighborhood encapsulated America’s extant white supremacist illness with all of its attendant anxieties.  The giddy ’80s were ending and neoliberalism was gnashing its teeth.  Americans, those illiterate, unruly masses, were starting to find out about the cruelties of capitalist modes of production again, especially at the global scale.  The 1960s Baby Boomer generation clearly read too many books because they were starting to reject war for profit, even reject capitalism altogether.  So, the 1970s right-wing economic backlash to the earlier Keynesian policies, which helped America out of the Great Depression, disciplined workers into submission.  President Reagan came down hard on labor unions.  Things were so bad, people were just happy to survive at the bottom of the American barrel.  In retrospect, the 1980s seems like a silly and giddy decade for American culture and politics.  Despite the American Century of Capitalist Triumphalism, by the late 1980s, we were starting to see serious challenges to the new global capitalism:  Berlin88, Paris89, Madrid94, J18, and the mother of all protests, Seattle/N30 aka the Seattle WTO protests.  We had predominantly white protestors challenging global capitalism and people of color, waging a cultural revolution of sorts with “conscious hip hop” and “punk rock”, challenging the status quo, and winning hearts and minds.

And, culturally, American hip hop was increasingly aware of the socioeconomic realities of capitalism.  Hip hop popularized a radical, leftist orientation in the late 1980s.  There seemed to be many conflicts at the turn of the decade.  Maybe that’s the way of the world.  But by 1992, we had the Battle of Los Angeles, in which the lumpenproletariat made its presence felt.

Forget my memoirs, bruh, let’s’ listen to KRS-One’s new album. It’s so fucken dope. I wish my brother, Eric, could hear this. Where you at Eric? Are you hearing this, Eric? Panch? What you think, Guero? I guess I’m an old-head. So what? Leave your comments down below. We earned these years, like Patti Smith would say; we earned these wrinkles.]


[1]  In hindsight, maybe KRS-One was always more like Fred Hampton, Sr. than Chuck D, or other black nationalists, in the sense of calling for the original rainbow coalition, of uniting all working class people, black, brown, and white.  Jesse Jackson, of course, would later appropriate Fred Hampton’s idea of a “proletarian revolution” of all colors of working class people.  Instead of a revolutionary mindset, Jesse Jackson appeared to be a compromised liberal reformist, who had betrayed Martin’s Dream (either before or) after Spring 1968.  Ask Mumia Abu Jamal about the day he first met Jesse Jackson.  Ask the Black Panthers.   Jesse Jackson’s movement had no teeth, a milquetoast version of Fred Hampton’s original rainbow coalition, which Jackson called “Operation PUSH”, formally.  But, informally, and despite having “a difficult relationship” with the Black Panthers, Jackson informally appropriated the term rainbow coalition to refer to the membership of his Operation Push organization.  Despite valid critiques against his reformist politics and cultural appropriation, Jackson continued using the term and even copyrighted it.  “In 1984, Jackson founded the National Rainbow Coalition.  It merged with PUSH in 1996 [to become the “Rainbow/PUSH Coalition].”


[24 DEC 2020]

[Last modified on 25 DEC 2020 at 05:32 PST]