The film 13th was released on Netflix in October 2016, just prior to the U.S. presidential election. It is clearly an anti-Trump film, although it is not clearly pro-anyone else. In April 2020, Netflix released the film for free on YouTube. It has been abuzz lately as a “must watch” film in the wake of the George Floyd uprisings.
The title 13th gives the impression that the film will focus on the 13th Amendment, and we assumed it would push the narrative that modern-day prison expansion is motivated by profiting from prisoner labor. We also thought it would be a film pushing people to focus on reforming the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Longtime readers of Under Lock & Key have likely already seen pieces debunking the line that the prison boom was motivated by exploiting prisoner labor. With our expectations from the title, we were pleasantly surprised by the film.
The film first focuses on the 13th Amendment, and explains the South needed labor after slavery was abolished. Where once there were slaves, there were then prisoner laborers. The exception in the 13th Amendment which allowed slavery for people convicted of a crime was primarily economically-motivated. From there, the film tracks prison expansion, which really took off after the exploitation of former slaves had ended, in response to social movements.
How the title relates to the theme of the film may be in that the 13th Amendment satisfied a dominant need of the time – white Amerika’s economic need for Black labor – and white Amerika has been adapting to meet its needs at the expense of New Afrikans ever since. 13th spans almost two centuries of U.$. history, and draws attention to many ways Amerika has adapted to meet its needs, whether they were economic needs or social needs.
13th does touch on the topic of prisoner labor for profit for private corporations, but doesn’t overly focus on it. Is prisoner labor for private profit a bad thing? Yes. Being that fewer than one percent of prisoners are engaged in productive labor for private profit, should we focus on it with all our energy, as if it is the main push for prison expansion?(1) MIM(Prisons) would answer this in the negative.
There are some economic motivations for prison expansion in recent-decades, but not for exploiting prisoner labor. 13th spends quite some time exposing the lobbying group American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) role in prison expansion, as well as its present role in pushing for “community supervision” (read: ankle and wrist bracelet GPS trackers, and privatized probation and parole).(2) The economic interest in prison expansion is in job security for Amerikans, and state funding funneling into private corporations for services. There is a socio-economic benefit to Amerika in draining the oppressed internal semi-colonies of time and resources through expensive phone calls, long drives to visit families, and other exorbitant and arbitrary fees and expenses.
In the end, the audience is left with a call to remain vigilant to what’s coming next. It leaves the focus on ALEC and corporate influence in legislation. A take-away of 13th is that nothing has worked to get the white oppressors’ boot (or knee) off of New Afrika’s neck. Amerikkka just changes tactics, but the effect is the same.
That’s what we’re seeing today with the recent Black Lives Matter movement upsurge. We don’t need a less-funded Amerikan police force. We need New Afrikans to have their own police, and military, AND state to do as they please without having to cooperate with this clearly sociopathic Amerikan nation. On the whole, 13th affirms our view that prisons are primarily a tool of social control, and we will answer the film’s call to remain vigilant so Amerika can’t continue oppressing New Afrika any longer.
This 2016 election season we heard many people likening Trump and eir proposed policies to fascism. Here we look at statements and actions that ey made, identifying fascist elements, while also going over what else they could be. First, let’s review what fascism is - from MIM’s “Definition of fascism” (which draws information from Dimitrov’s report to the 7th world congress of the COMINTERN and Dutt’s Fascism and Social Revolution), fascism is “the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” Further, fascism is “an extreme measure taken by the bourgeoisie to forestall proletarian revolution… the conditions [which give rise to fascism] are: instability of capitalist relationships; the existence of considerable declassed social elements; the pauperization of broad strata of the urban petit-bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia; discontent among the rural petit-bourgeoisie; and finally, the constant menace of mass proletarian action.” So basically, if the capitalists feel like they are going to lose their money deals, if mass amounts of the petit-bourgeoisie suddenly find themselves impoverished, and there is significant fear of actual proletarian revolutionary action, these are conditions that give rise to fascism.
With this in mind, let’s look at one of Trump’s more popular proposals – to build a wall on the U.$./Mexico border to physically keep people from crossing over into so-called United $tates territory. Trump believes immigrants from Mexico impose a threat to the job economy of the amerikkkan labor aristocracy, and also that they are not amerikkkans and don’t belong here. Following the guidelines laid out above, the building of a wall could fall into a reactionary action taken to counteract the threat to the labor aristocracy; keeping the amerikkkan “working class” safe and happy to prevent discontent and ensure that there is no declassing or pauperization. However, it’s more accurate to consider the idea of a border wall to fall under extreme racism and isolationism than fascism. Trump claims that amerikkkan people are better at making money and working than those who might come over from Mexico, and ey wishes to keep things contained within eir own walls than to bring in people from the outside. A similar example of Trump’s isolationism can be found in eir ideas to keep production and trade local rather than global. Ey believes that trade with other countries is stealing jobs from people here, and that people here can do it better anyway. A more fascist way of handling this would be to allow trade with other countries as long as it proved opportunistic and beneficial (which it does for the U.$. financially).
Next, we can look at Trump’s ideas about “destroying radical Islamic terrorist groups.” To make such a statement is highly chauvinist and reactionary, though it is not in response to something ey believes could topple the government. It is more of a show of force both internally and externally. Again, here we see extreme racism – Trump is further bolstering the “us vs. them” mentality that is already prevalent in much of amerikkkan society, identifying a group of people as the other or bad, and rallying people around that idea. A more fascist example of a similar act is the raids, arrests and murders committed by the pigs towards the Black Panther Party (BPP) and other revolutionary nationalist groups in the 1960s and 70s. The BPP was a highly organized group with significant popular support among the New Afrikan nation and it was enough of a threat of revolutionary action to warrant direct reaction. The imperialists felt enough pressure from the BPP to publicly act outside of their established laws to counteract that pressure, though much public opinion was on the BPP’s side. The attacks against nations that are primarily Islamic is imperialist aggression that has been the war cry of Amerikan imperialists for years now.
The biggest thing to take away from this is the understanding that Trump’s actions are often not fascist because they do not need to be. Ey is not facing any of the triggers mentioned in MIM’s “Definition of fascism” at the moment. There is no internal revolution rising, nor is there fear of pauperization of the bourgeoisie. Trump for the most part is what we would call an imperialist, as ey seeks to systematically and internationally oppress some groups whilst bolstering others. That being said, based on Trump’s statements and actions, if Amerikan capitalism was truly threatened by the oppressed internal nations, Trump’s open chauvinism would easily transition to far heavier fascist tendencies.
"White Privilege II"
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, feat. Jamila Woods
Released January 2016
This song calls people out about attending protests and tweeting, or being silent, instead of "actually getting involved" in fighting racism. The song is very introspective and what might sound like Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) dissing other artists is actually about Macklemore and Ryan Lewis themselves. Macklemore criticizes emself along with others for making money off a style that came from Black nation culture and acknowledges that "I've been passive." "It seems like we're more concerned with being called racist than we actually are with racism."(1) Ironically, the free song will make money for someone even if it's just through bringing more traffic to iTunes or YouTube, but that doesn't mean Macklemore isn't saying something correct.
On the plus side, Macklemore doesn't say anything supporting mass surveillance or the expansion or legitimization of the federal government's power ostensibly to protect Blacks. Macklemore doesn't explicitly oppose Black nationalism. Notably, Macklemore says that "white supremacy isn't just a white dude in Idaho" and that it "protects the privilege I hold" — taking issue with the idea that Euro-Amerikan domination and oppression are just about something inside somebody's brain among the white trash, rural people, or Republicans. Macklemore also raises that people's actions — or their inaction — taken so they won't be called "racist" are compatible with doing nothing that contributes to ending racism. As Macklemore might or might not know, in 2016 there is still a huge problem involving post-modernism-influenced efforts that emphasize changes in speech and thought, and perfecting those in increasing detail, over taking concrete action to end repression. Simply participating in a protest or saying some approving words about a well-known movement could become part of maintaining a non-racist or anti-racist identity with which one can be satisfied — a step toward contentment. Without development of knowledge and of the motivation to apply it scientifically, it could also be premature catharsis and a substitute for revolutionary work.
Also on the plus side is Macklemore's passing critique of petty-bourgeois "DIY" (do-it-yourself) culture that sometimes purports to be isolated from exploitation, corporations, finance capital, and imperialist oppression. "The DIY underdog, so independent. But the one thing the American dream fails to mention is I was many steps ahead to begin with."
Macklemore also mentions those who would praise eir song "Same Love" ("If I was gay, I would think hip hop hates me") because of its support for gay people, but disdain Black hip hop and claim "it's your fault if you run" in the context of police shootings. Macklemore implicates emself in the treatment of Blacks as inferior. "If I'm the hero, you know who gets cast as the villain." It is true that many in the United $tates and the West have rejected anti-imperialist ways of advancing gay people's rights, consider Muslim and oppressed nations to be incapable or less capable of change on gender questions without Western intervention, and cannot imagine how Black nationalism, Chican@ nationalism, First Nation nationalism and other oppressed nation nationalism would help with gay and lesbian liberation.
A voice that's not Macklemore's toward the end of the song mentions "a very age-old fight for black liberation." Unfortunately, there is no mention of Black nationalism specifically. There is no mention of the Black Panther Party, which at one time was Maoist.(2) The name "Black Lives Matter" shares an acronym with "Black liberation movement," and there are many around or associated with #BlackLivesMatter who claim to be for Black liberation. There are many, though, who are against even using the term, and there are others who explicitly reject Black nationalism, Black nation self-determination, Black nation independent institutions, and Black nation-building. If Macklemore wanted to be controversial, ey could have at least mentioned Black power, Black nationalism, the BPP, Huey Newton, or Malcolm X, but Macklemore doesn't manage to leave the realm of a kind of political correctness despite asking "Then I'm trying to be politically correct?" if ey stays silent. (Maybe eir verbal support for Black nationalism will come with "White Privilege III." Probably only if Blacks themselves start popularizing present-day nationalist struggles, for white rappers to tag on to.)
This reviewer would suggest to Macklemore that, from the point of the view of the oppressed, sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something when it comes to non-lumpen white Amerikans such as emself who usually would do nothing to upset business as usual, including Democratic Party business. Contentment and apathy are bad things when there is really a potential to help the oppressed, but it is clear that when Amerikans become militant or excited it is normally for the worse. Militant integrationism and militant labor aristocracy politics are not better than nothing from the viewpoint of the international proletariat.
For example, vigorously upholding certain aspects of Martin Luther King while pooping on Huey Newton and even Malcolm X is not better than nothing. Joining the outrageously chauvinistic and labor aristocracy-influenced Progressive Labor Party — which opposed Black nationalism when the BPP was around and still being ferociously repressed — and continuing in 2016 the PLP tradition of criticizing Black and other internal semi-colony nationalism isn't better than nothing. Talking about the Black nation occasionally, but all but rejecting Black nationalism (and supporting it only nominally), and making mealy-mouthed innuendo against Black nationalists as a group, isn't better than nothing. Insinuating that all oppressed-nation nationalism is narrow nationalism, while advocating for U.$. exploiter class/individual unity and economic and political interests, isn't better than nothing. Rejecting Black nationalism in the name of "multiracial" unity for more super-profits in the parasitic United $nakes isn't better than nothing. Talking about white supremacy and then actively denying the existence of Euro-Amerikan national oppression of Black people isn't better than nothing. Talking about oppression of Black people only to hitch people to U.$.-centric social-democracy or a fascist party isn't better than nothing (in other words, voting for Bernie Sanders isn't better than doing nothing). Trying to rile up the labor aristocracy and the U.$. middle class as if they were revolutionary, instead of petty-bourgeois exploiters prone to supporting fascism, isn't better than nothing. Stirring up exploiters to march in the streets to jail some bankers, without giving up their aspirations to control and obtain more benefit from finance capital and imperialist state power, isn't better than nothing. Attacking Third World peoples in various chauvinistic ways while flattering and pandering to the already-chauvinistic and racist labor aristocracy and gender aristocracy, of highly privileged U.$. so-called "workers" and globally privileged Euro-Amerikan females, is not better than nothing.
Amerikkkans who are already going around the United $tates and the world disrupting movements against U.$. imperialism certainly should recognize the privilege they exercise in doing so, instead of, for example, denying that viable alternatives to what they are doing exist. Both white people and non-white people should understand how Euro-Amerikans, including Euro-Amerikan settler nation workers, are privileged as settlers, oppressors, and exploiters.
There is less utility, though, in whites dwelling on their particular privilege as individuals with skin privilege, certain family history, etc., rather than the privilege of their group in very broad social relationships of global national oppression and exploitation. Suggesting listeners also "look at" themselves, Macklemore talks more about emself as an individual, than about Euro-Amerikan labor aristocrats as a group. Focusing on race and variation in individual privilege could draw attention away from national oppression by whites and the labor aristocracy privilege that U.$. citizen workers have in common. Ideas about inequality within U.$. borders have long been used to make the political and strategic consequences of global international inequality seem less important. Ideas about white privilege and individual self-reflection often don't address how the vast majority of U.$. citizens are exploiters of Third World workers. Often these calls to anti-racist activism end up as an exercise in that white privilege on a global scale.
Euro-Amerikan acknowledgment of privilege could be a welcome step toward ideological reform and taking responsibility for police and criminal injustice system violence and other wrongdoing, how whites have benefited economically, nationally and socially from imprisonment and control of non-whites, war, national oppression, exploitation, and their consequences. But this recognition would have to be more than halfway, not partial, or it may end up obscuring and legitimizing the majority of a typical Euro-Amerikan's privilege under the guise of moving toward helping non-whites.
At this point in history, the oppressed generally don't need unscientific leadership or militant do-something impulsive actions. That may not leave Euro-Amerikans much to do if they decline to study their position, and the position of the U.$. population, in an actually comprehensive way. They can be cautious about accepting any prevailing narrative. They can be wary of potentially following any Amerikan leader into fascism and destruction. Labor aristocrats will do what they need to do in anti-war or anti-single-war movements, and other movements, to remind politicians to act in their interests and spend more super-profit tax money on them as allegedly anti-Iraq-War Obama did. We don't want a broad anti-racist call to action to end up inspiring more Amerikkkans to fight for their own global interests.
Macklemore raps about whites protesting and "seeming like you're down" as having an "incentive" to do so, in order to be liked and accepted. Oppressors do have an incentive to co-opt movements or use them for career reasons, but the oppressed have an incentive to fight. There's nothing wrong with incentive itself, contrary to mistaken notions that all activism should be altruistic. The notion that whites should have selfless pure motives in participating in or supporting a movement around killings of Black people could actually be an admission that whites don't have an interest in the movement contrary to ideas about Black people's struggles positively intersecting with white worker, and white petty-bourgeois individual so-called liberation. Either whites have an interest in opposing police and vigilante brutality or they don't, and most don't.
More important than whether somebody has "incentive" or not is whether ey is standing in the way of Black nationalism or not. Macklemore's lyrics suggest a tension between "do something" and "don't do it for you." Labor aristocracy and petty-bourgeois types would add, "Do it, because it's in your own interest." There is an alternative to more-involved labor aristocracy activism or more-energetic integrationist activism, and that is to support anti-Amerikan Black nationalism and movements and institutions that are independent of Democratic Party and white exploiter interests and politics. Short of that, Macklemore's expression of "we are not we" (as opposed to "we are not free") is to be preferred to whites' falsely identifying with Blacks, claiming to be one with them, and derailing their movement via "All Lives Matter" sentiments.