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Tracks & Trails

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Owen Nelson
Owen Nelson

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As the twentieth century closes, the USA has become what the New York Times at the time of the Gulf "War" called a "Hessian state": economically depressed, technologically backward in all areas except the military. The US capitalist class has come more and more to resemble the "comprador bourgeoisies" of Central America, living on income skimmed off by speculation or by investment in still poorer countries, while most domestic industry is foreign-owned and the mean real wage drops sharply below Western European levels. The majority of the employed -- about 65% of the working-age population have some sort of job -- are low-paid, insecure workers in banking, insurance, data processing, weapons manufacture, light assembly, domestic service, and retail sales.




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Literacy beyond the third-grade level is becoming a minority acquisition, since real education has been almost completely privatized and in most states only the well-to-do can afford college. The lower layers of the working population, part-time and short-term, shade off into a vast mass of desperate unemployed. Between meager welfare checks (which must generally be worked for into the bargain), the unemployed support themselves by casual labor, street vending, petty crime, drug dealing, and prostitution. The latter, despite AIDS, is one of the few growth industries, catering especially to European and Japanese tourists, who love the ethnic variety afforded by the vast red-light districts of LA and NY. About three-fifths of all African-Americans, half of all Latinos, and a quarter of all whites experience "Third World" infant mortality, nutrition, life expectancy, and housing quality.


The military-police complex clings to this dying beast like a giant tick. Heavily armed police stage quasi-military occupation of poor neighborhoods, using the pretext of "gang control" or else straight counterinsurgency. Civil liberties continue to erode, for the poor especially. For the so-called middle class too, the freedoms of speech, information, and assembly are curtailed for reasons of "war on crime," or by the corporate "neighborhood associations" that increasingly run suburban enclaves, levying their own taxes, imposing rigid codes of conduct on residents, and operating their own security forces. Data collected through automated transaction systems is accumulated into "virtual dossiers" on every citizen, linked by identifiers like Driver's License and Social Security numbers; these dossiers are used by both government and private intelligence services to target deviant behaviors, and to lock out troublemakers from employment, rental housing, education, loans, and informational services. Attempts to organize workplace or rent strikes are routinely broken by racism, injunctions, and/or semi-official thuggery. Dissent, beyond the mildest and least effectual expressions, is effectively criminalized.


Despite this clampdown (and also because of it) the 2010's see the growth of a sizable fascist movement of enraged, mostly young, barely literate whites (with a good sprinkling of college boys and professionals) who blame blacks and immigrants for economic decline. In some areas the fascists operate inside the shell of the local or regional Republican party, in others outside it as pseudo-populist formations; some are Christian Fundamentalists, others relatively non-religious racialists or even primitivistic polytheists like the core of the old Nazi SS. These white nationalists often attack workers and people of color; but they also fight the police, believing them to be deluded agents of the "Globalist Financial Elite."


The old-line reformist African-American and Latino leadership is helpless in the face of this onslaught. Younger working-class black and brown people respond at first mainly with demagogic or protofascist forms of nationalism a la Nation of Islam -- patriarchal, misogynist, homophobic, counter-racist and often anti-Semitic, and deeply authoritarian. (These tendencies are reinforced by the large numbers of young men who have been part of race-based prison mobs.) Uniformed militants of these rival political gangs patrol the borders of their respective ghettos, clashing occasionally in firefights in which the police hesitate to intervene. Within these borders, they practice terror and extortion. They are most viciously hostile to any tendency that seeks to make common cause across racial lines and according to class interest.


Slowly, and especially in the West, the Southwest, the North, and the Northeast, cross-cultural tendencies gain in strength, fueled by the impotence of narrow nationalist politics in the face of generalized economic and ecological breakdown. Cultural collaboration and dialogue helps to crack the racial barriers here and there, as does common struggle over toxic dumps and other ecological concerns. The Green movement, now substantially composed of poor and working-class people, becomes the crucial site of cross-racial alliance, in genuinely grassroots groups like the Southwest Coalition for Environmental & Economic Justice headquartered in Tijuana, or Chicago's People for Community Renewal.


Meanwhile, in Free-market states, opposition is growing. Green and black organizations, now semi-clandestine because of repression, make common cause with poor whites in and around chemical plants and oil refineries along the ultra-polluted Gulf coast. Green-state radicals send in clandestine organizers, technology (electronic gear, sabotage software), and funds to aid the opposition. In the old Black Belt, African-Americans form a huge coalition that stages armed counter-demonstrations against fascist attacks. There are bloody riots in several Southern cities that leave hundreds dead and large areas burnt to the ground. Strikes and boycotts begin to spread in spite of fierce repression. Death squads, led by "off-duty" police, wage all-out terror against black and brown organizations. Police HQ's are blown up in retaliation. Following an appeal by embattled Chicanos, thousands of armed Mexican workers march across the Texas border and engage in pitched battle with the police and the Guard. Martial law is declared across the South.Green state governments collapse as all Federal funds are cut off and state capitols are seized by armed Federal agents and airborne troops. The President, with a minimal Congressional majority, suspends the Constitution and attempts to put national martial-law plans into effect via FEMA, state militias, and crack counterinsurgency troops. Mass roundups of Green, worker, African-American, and Latino activists begin. Large demonstrations and strikes spread: the national economy is paralyzed as highways and rail lines are blockaded and airports closed. In Seattle, several hundred unarmed demonstrators including women and children are slaughtered. As word of the massacre spreads, many Army units desert; some go over to the rebel side. There are small-arms and tank battles in cities, with bitter house-to-house fighting.


The Revolutionary Democratic Federation (RDF) is formed from already existing regional councils of neighborhood, worker, and ethnically-based groups and planning bodies as well as the remains of local government. The Federation declares independence from the USA in about thirty states where it now controls production, communications and transportation and runs its own militias. The Federal government collapses as mass desertions from the military continue. A vast demonstrator-army of mostly black poor people sweeps into central DC and begins seizing and trashing government buildings. The President, top officials, and generals flee to Houston. The Free-market state regimes, most of which have been completely taken over by fascists, likewise collapse over the next few months after many thousands of deaths from violence, hunger, and disease -- as well as a reactor accident that leaves a large swath of Tennessee uninhabitable. The rebels, having seized power, affiliate with the RDF.


The USA is formally dissolved into the North American Democratic Federation. The new Federal government retains much of the Constitution minus the role of President, the Senate, and the Electoral College, but with all of the Bill of Rights, plus new amendments banning private (as opposed to cooperative) ownership of more than 40 acres of land, denying corporations the rights of persons, and making representatives subject to strict mandate and immediate recall by their elective bodies. The Federation also declares social ownership and citizen-worker management of all workplaces involving more than twenty people, including industry, telecommunications, and transportation (this law simply ratifies accomplished fact).


These legal measures are the tip of a huge iceberg of social transformation, especially around work. Few people spend more than twenty hours a week on their "job" (now called a Share, as in doing one's share); but there is strong social-ethical pressure on everyone able-bodied and -minded to do at least ten hours. New products (other than standardized components like screws and rivets, electrical and electronic gear, plumbing parts, and tools, whose production is as automated as possible) are now customized imaginatively by teams of makers who develop group stylistic signatures. Entrepreneurship is encouraged less by monetary reward than by public acclaim in competitions between work groups or cooperatives.


Tract-home sprawl is gradually broken up as mid-range (suburban) population density is made illegal; some suburbs are demolished and plowed under for farmland, others are condensed into villages and small towns with their own centers and workplaces. Long-distance commuting becomes a rarity. Between cities, high-speed and local trains replace the automobile as the main means of transportation. Fossil-fuel burning is cut by two-thirds within five years, and the remaining gasoline-powered vehicles are subjected to strict CO2 emission control. Reforestation becomes a major social project, involving hundreds of thousands of mostly young people who do tours of duty in wilderness areas and in green belts around cities.


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