Coopting the language of the left at the pro-life march on Washington

Temptation by Max Beckmann
Temptation by Max Beckmann

A pro-life marcher speaking the language of the Left and what it says about the tone and form of a position versus the content.

Submitted by Comrade Motopu on January 29, 2017

Today (01/27/17) on NPR's "The World" I heard an interview with a pro-life marcher on Washington, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie. She coopted the language of the Left to explain her pro-life stance.

She spoke as someone who is, in her own words, "not really white.” Her race-line politics give her reactionary views a veneer of rebellion and even victim status. As a Latina woman who grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, she believes the US practices "cultural imperialism" by foisting secular views about abortion on countries where the "dignity of life" makes abortion illegal. I'm not aware of the US prioritizing feminist reforms as part of Monroe Doctrine type control of the Western Hemisphere. Maybe the Contras were setting up Planned Parenthood centers, but I've never seen evidence for it.* Usually, US backed death squads in Latin America were busy killing villagers, unionists, priests and nuns, and democratically elected political leaders, to facilitate the flow of capital to US based corporate investment portfolios. The meddling has continued to the present, now partially challenged by various newer Left governments, the “pink tide.” It’s the meddling and aggression that characterize US imperialism, not women’s reproductive rights. Trump just reinstated the ban on aid agencies abroad using US money to provide for safe abortions (the “Mexico City Policy” ordered by Reagan in 1984). This action will harm countless women, but is apparently not “imperialism.”

The US did implement “imperialist” birth control via the sterilization of Puerto Rican women as a population control method along with forced migration (due to economic crises under occupation), but this was not carried out as part of a women's rights program. “A 1965 survey of Puerto Rican residents found that about one-third of all Puerto Rican mothers, ages 20-49, were sterilized.”

"Cultural imperialism" aside, universal women's rights must be upheld. When abortion is banned, women die attempting to obtain illegal procedures, making “anti-imperialist” arguments to uphold anti-choice laws transparently disingenuous. This seems obvious. You can only argue reproductive rights are the imposition of "Western secular values" if you believe oppressing women is an inherent cultural value of Latin America rather than one that is presently enforced by specific institutions embedded in the logic of capitalist production (exacerbated by imperialism). I'm not saying religion doesn't play a role, but that religion itself reflects divisions of labor and has a role in the state program as a ruling class program. Last I checked, Catholicism is not a Native American invention, which is fine, but we were talking about "cultural imperialism."

Cultural imperialism lacks cohesiveness as a concept if it can be mobilized merely to express outrage at “Eurocentrism,” or “American exceptionalism” while simultaneously used to justify denying women even basic human rights. The underlying implication in such theories is that it would be acceptable for indigenous cultural forms to dominate, even if they stemmed from and upheld class exploitation and inequality. According to this view it’s not the content of the “resistance,” but which nation state it comes from that matters. The argument usually goes that “Western” assessments and descriptions of class society are fine for the West, but not the Global South, “Third World,” or indigenous regions, where older existing social forms render such analyses moot. These theories work as a fig leaf for bourgeois rule and opportunism, making them quite usable, in the clunkiest way, for the Right. This is not to dismiss decolonization, but to note that all capitalist classes must be subjected to criticism and resistance. Decolonization without a working class grounding is bourgeois politics.

The show’s host, Marco Werman, asked Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie about a photo of Trump signing the Executive Order reinstating the “Mexico City Policy.” He asked her what she thought about there being only men in the photo. She quickly turned this weak objection back on him saying that it didn't matter to her, since good ideas come from both men and women. This is not an anti-sexist line of course, but the Right wing view that anti-choice policies have nothing to do with controlling women's bodies and labor. They are only about saving babies.

She returned to a point she had side-tracked to, that to her, diversity meant a diversity of ideas, not skin tones. This isn't the Left critique of race-line politics, that they are often used to obscure class issues in favor of cross-class collaboration, but the "color blind" line of the Right. Negative outcomes that break down along ethnic lines can be justified by the idea that racism supposedly does not effect social outcomes in our now fully functioning meritocracy. While a historically grounded “Left” position can see that racist outcomes are not necessarily best challenged with “anti-racism,” and in fact, racist outcomes don’t even need racist intent to be upheld, the Right is more likely to dismiss any current racial disparities as a problem of defective cultures, laziness on the part of non-whites, or even grotesque theories about genetic propensity to avoid “risk taking” behavior that entrepreneurial individuals and groups practice.

Yes, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie’s recuperations of Left rhetoric are buffoonish, and some work better than others. They are all used to position arguments beyond “PC” critiques. Since neither the Right nor Left of capitalist ideology offers a radical critique of social relations, all of this rhetoric must to some degree devolve into contradiction.

Where abortion is outlawed, only well off women can afford to go outside the country to get one. Given that the Right wing arguments against choice usually don't consider any class aspect, this can simply be dismissed as a peripheral issue, especially since Trump is going to make workers in the US rich again (Vice President Pence spoke at the march). Some reference to class might appear, as in the view that coastal elites promote hedonism and the use of abortion as birth control in a Satanic campaign of genocide against the unborn. Mostly though, the Right’s version of the class line is trickle down. The current version goes like this: "The outsider capitalist Trump will kick ass on the elitist capitalists so that real Americans can get our jobs back." Clear the playing field of obstacles so folksy geniuses like Trump can pull capitalism back to where it should be, a beneficial game in which some win, and others get charity from their betters, and everyone who deserves to can prosper on some level.

Workers who have bought into this through desperation, political myopia, or seething resentment of the neoliberal/anti-working-class New Democrats are headed for disappointment. It looks like Trump is bringing in specific union leadership for some sweet heart deals that will do little to improve the conditions for the broader laboring class. Nineteenth century robber baron and railroad magnate Jay Gould famously said he could hire one half of the working class to kill the other half. Some of today’s union bureaucrats have signaled they are willing to take the job. Without solidarity, and sadly, even with it, this will always be what capitalist employment comes down to, some workers positioning for limited benefits while being pit against others. What should be clear is that both the Right-wing trickle down take on class relations and the Centrist Left version, which is “labor peace,” are both class-collaborationist, and they function to maintain capitalist social relations and inequality.

When the good guys of the capitalist class help workers, the end result usually still looks like defeat. Think of Obama "saving the auto industry" by cutting wages in half for new hires, creating a two tier divide in the work force. Like the Right-winger using the rhetoric of “imperialism” to justify attacks on women’s rights, Clintonites sound strange when they talk about neoliberal policies allegedly defending workers, women, and non-whites.

This is my point. It’s not the tone or form of a political position that matters as much as the content. Any class-based analysis must also pass this test, or it too is in danger of recuperation by the Right and by liberals. It must be universalist, practicing cross-ethnic solidarity along class lines, across national borders, and ultimately against production for exchange value, if its anti-imperialist and anti-racist demands are meant as more than posturing.

* Thanks to a comrade who reminded me that the Sandinistas supported a ban on all abortions under Daniel Ortega in 2005. The point of mentioning the Contras was to highlight real imperialist Right-wing death squads over the disingenuous use of “cultural imperialism” as alleged evidence that women’s reproductive rights are somehow oppressive. While the Sandinistas were more supportive of women’s rights in the 1980s, they were never beyond critique as revolutionaries, and their trajectory once in power offers a lot of familiar pit falls.