June 14, 2024

It pales next to Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians of Gaza, but the Zionist political police operation teaches its own lesson about class and democracy.

In the United States, middle school teachers, office workers, accountants, medical students, retail store managers, and other workers have been suspended and fired for expressing horror at the genocide on their own time, on their social media accounts, and in personal emails. (On the other hand, when workers and students demonstrate in large numbers on the streets, the Zionists have generally been unable to victimize them ─ so far.)

Typical of the repression is what happened to three workers at Farley’s East coffee shop in Oakland, California. A fervid Zionist discovered slogans like “Zionism = fascism” on the restroom wall. She created an incident, yelling and interfering with the employees’ work. A simple photo of the graffiti would not stimulate a mob reaction, but her edited video was picked up by the New York Post and other publications.

The owners of the coffee shop soon offered an apology. It did not satisfy the Zionists – so the owners tossed three baristas under the bus, firing them. Yet according to Farley’s staff, the graffiti had been on the restroom walls for months, and the owners knew about it.

Repression of Workers, and a Problem in the Ruling Class

Zionist repression is enforced at all levels of society. Hollywood actors, professors, science and sports reporters (!), magazine editors … “hundreds of people have found themselves sacked for speaking out against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.” (Al Jazeera, Nov. 6, 2023). They imagined that they had a right of free speech in a democracy.

The repression does not appear to be a class issue, but it is. An illuminating case is the firestorm of criticism heaped upon Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University. A Trumpist congressperson pilloried Gay at a committee hearing on Dec. 5. Asked in effect to declare that all criticism of Zionism is antisemitic, Gay tried to thread a needle, replying, “It can be. Depending on the context.” For weeks since then, politicians and media commentators have demanded that Harvard fire president Gay. As of this writing, she has weathered the storm.

Claudine Gay does not earn a wage for the use of her labor power. She is the highly paid administrator who runs a university with $6 billion in annual revenue, rated AAA by Standard & Poor’s. As part of her job, president Gay must declare that Harvard is a bastion of freedom of speech. In reality, it is a playing field of capitalist democracy.

The congressional hearing put her in a bind. On one hand, Gay supports Zionism. When Israel began its assault on Gaza in October, she told the Harvard community, “We write to you today heartbroken by the death and destruction unleashed by the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel this weekend, and by the war in Israel and Gaza now under way.” Gay’s tilt is obvious.

On the other hand, if the president of Harvard had gone along with the congressperson, she would have damaged illusions about democracy. Gay could not find a way to combine hypocrisy about free speech with the Zionist edict that anyone who questions Israel’s overt genocide of Palestinians is antisemitic.

Should Claudine Gay need to leave her presidential post early, she will be allowed to resign and given a privileged consolation berth in some institute. Meanwhile, coffee shop baristas are tossed to the wind.

The Diversity Show: An Evasion of Class Exploitation

The Claudine Gay incident also touched the current third rail of public discourse – diversity and identity politics.

Unable to get a quick exit of president Gay, right-wing commentators went after her career built on favoritism. She rose quickly through several fellowships; appointments as assistant, associate, and then full professor in only eight years; director of department graduate studies; two faculty dean posts in succession; and now the first Black woman president of Harvard University.

Professor Gay has written no books (she did edit a volume with three other editors). She has published fewer than a dozen peer-reviewed papers; seven of them have been discredited after forty instances of plagiarism were discovered. Gay tacitly admitted guilt by requesting to add various quotation marks and footnotes to the papers in question. Harvard’s governing body, a self-perpetuating Corporation of thirteen members chaired by hotel-chain billionaire Penny Pritzker, swept the plagiarism under the rung and reaffirmed their selection of president Gay.

Right-wing critics showed that Claudine Gay soared to the top on the basis of diversity without accomplishment. But they omit her class position. 

Claudine Gay is the daughter of Michael Gay. He is from Haiti. He became a civil engineer in the United States, worked for the giant Kiewit construction corporation in Saudi Arabia, then in early middle age started GDG Béton et Construction, a prosperous concrete company in Haiti. The three letters match the principals of the firm: Michael and Sony Gay and Patrick Delatour, Michael’s cousin.

The Delatour family is at the core of the Haitian ruling class. Patrick’s brother, Leslie Delatour, was a governor of Haiti’s central bank. He did a stint at the World Bank. He was finance minister under one of the dictators of the country. In this position he shut down two state sugar refineries and opened the door to contraband Dominican sugar, throwing 40,000 Haitian sugar workers out of their jobs. After Leslie Delatour died, his widow married the president of the country.

Is it any wonder that Michael Gay’s daughter went to Philips Exeter Academy, a prep school of the capitalist ruling class? That she coasted through Princeton and Stanford?

The ruling class veils its exploitation of workers with identity politics. It is offered as a counter to the united fight for equality and for wages and programs that benefit all of us.

• Identity politics stirs up a frenzy over “trigger” words while doing nothing about what workers suffer: crowded classrooms, low pay, miserable working conditions, precarious jobs, outrageous rents, and extortionate prices of medicines.

• Identity politics promotes a few individuals who have the right markers and a careerist motivation.

• Identity politics divides workers along one “intersection” after another in order to break up working-class unity, anti-racist struggle, and class struggle.

Claudine Gay, a Black immigrant accustomed since birth to first place in line, is a perfect fit to receive the benefit of identity politics and to enforce it at Harvard.

Class Rule Is Fundamental

“We cannot speak of ‘pure democracy’ as long as different classes exist; we can only speak of class democracy.” (Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky) Speech is as free as the ruling class decides it should be.

The U.S. ruling class is on board with Israel’s decision to wreak open genocide on Palestinians. It is on board with Zionist political repression in the U.S. So when necessary, the ruling class lightly slaps upper personnel who get caught in a crosswind.

“The bourgeoisie are compelled to be hypocritical and to describe as ‘popular government’ or democracy in general, or pure democracy, the (bourgeois) democratic republic which is, in practice, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the dictatorship of the exploiters over the working people.” (Lenin, underline added)

Lenin nailed the problem, and he was right about the solution: our class must rule! Then we can have working-class democracy – and make a good life for all of us.

Charles Andrews is the author of The Hollow Colossus.