By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
"You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry… Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong…with capitalism… There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism."
Martin Luther king 1966
There has been considerable debate in the media and on social networking sites since the shutting down of a scheduled Bernie Sanders speech by activists from the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle last Saturday, August 8th. I commented on the issue in a short introduction to an article we posted on this blog by Bruce Dixon, an editor of the Black Agenda Report.
I was asked by some people whether or not I supported the BLM action in Seattle, but for me it’s not so much whether I support such an action or not, I have participated in similar direct action tactics and was removed from a council meeting here where I live doing exactly that, but I have had some concerns about the movement and what it is. I agreed with much of Bruce Dixon’s criticism where he raises BLM’s lack of criticism for Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton and what Dixon calls the black “elite” and what I referred to as black capitalism and the black petty bourgeois. I will share my thoughts in more detail here.
If the reader visits the BLM website you will find some startling statistics, many of which we have used on this blog. If we just consider a couple:
· The infant mortality rate for Black mothers is more than double that of White mothers
· The median wealth for single White women is $42,600. For Black women, it’s $5.001.
· In our country 1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated in his lifetime 5, and Black women are the fastest growing prison population
I have pointed out that if the conditions like those above and many more like them were prevalent in the white population of the US, the mass media would be talking endlessly about the country being in a state of chronic depression, not because the white ruling class loves white workers, but because white workers are more numerous, have been handed some privileges as members of the so-called “White Race”, and act as a base upon which they have depended many times. Throughout the capitalist media, subtly and not so subtly, the implication is that the cause of these conditions and the disparity is personal or collective failure. This is the ideology of capitalism that maintains that we are in control of our own destiny and responsible for our own condition and it is used also used to justify racist ideas.
When we consider these conditions, any honest European/white workers, indeed, all workers, have to understand and justify the anger black folks feel not just at these but at the history of a special brutality and dehumanizing of them that is an integral part of the rise of US capitalism as a world power. Imagine how the Native People feel. It is not dissimilar to the British occupation of Ireland but worse. The divide and rule tactic of a white race and an inferior black one has served the white skinned ruling class well in this country for hundreds of years.
Black history is ignored yes, but so is white history. The Civil Rights movement forced some concession on this from the ruling class as the white capitalist power structure fostered the development of a black middle class that could act as a buffer zone and suppress the revolutionary potential of the black workers, this I would argue is the elite Mr, Dixon refers to. But more importantly, it is working class history that is ignored. Black History Month at my workplace generally ignored the incredible role that black workers have played in the struggle against capital and against racial exclusion from the white dominated unions and focused instead on famous black artists and writers etc. These are important, but it’s who they leave out that matters.
What is taught is white capitalist history. That black people worked for 300 years without wages is not a main feature of our daily dose of media propaganda. Most American workers would know nothing of the great sit-downs and the 44-day Flint occupation or the three General Strikes in 1934. They would never have heard of the Seattle General strike where workers controlled and directed the economic activity of that city for 5 days. After the genocidal war against the indigenous population of this land mass, and the centuries old war on women, the incredible brutality and violence committed against all workers with a special exclusion and violence reserved for blacks by the so-called founders of this country is something all workers have to familiarize ourselves with, and come to terms with, if we are to build a future for ourselves and our children.
Bruce Dixon pointed out in his blog commentary something else that was missing from the BLM approach, and that is the issue of capitalism. I am also in full agreement with him on that point. The BLM movement does seem to ignore this question.
Martin Luther King’s quote above is not popular with the 1% in this country and it is not popular with the black petty bourgeois who if not directly capitalists themselves are representatives of black capitalism in the two capitalist parties or in some other way like the movies, the mass media, the arts or education. Heroic characters like Martin Luther King and Malcom X are portrayed as carnival like figures whose birthdays we can celebrate with festivities and food, but their actual ideas are suppressed. They are just “black” leaders.
The BLM website also spells out its program which is pretty good and demands changes that we would all benefit from. They demand the end to discrimination, and end to police brutality and call for housing for all and “quality education for all”. They also demand an end to the military industrial complex and demand the US government in the form of the presidency (the White House) institute a “racial justice agenda”.
These are good things to fight for, but it is this aspect of the movement, or what it lacks that I would have some disagreements with, not direct action tactics.
Neither myself nor the Project for a Working People’s World supports Bernie Sanders as he is part of the Democratic Party machine, one of the two major parties of US capitalism. In this time of the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, we should remember that it was this party that dropped the bomb. He is also a Zionist and a supporter of US imperialism. He does not stand for the Palestinian people. He is also for regulating capitalism not ending capitalism and he refuses to confront the racist US state. This is shown in his attempts to find a way to support the racist state machine and at the same time speak against racism. This is not a circle that can be squared. In opposing him on this last point many of those who correctly criticize him show their lack of class analysis and outlook
The Democratic Party cannot serve the interests of working people, or solve the crisis that exists in society and in the black communities in particular. Even Bernie Sanders’ issues cannot be won through this party. The BLM movement seems to avoid the political question and capitalism altogether along with the only alternative that I can see which is democratic socialism.
It is not enough to simply call for economic injustice and assume racism will disappear. From my perspective, racism will never disappear under capitalism, they will always use it and this is what the BLM movement does not take up. From what I understand, the BLM movement in targeting two left Democratic Party events, the Netroots gathering which, according to Dixon, bills itself as, “the largest gathering of the progressive movement” and the Sanders speech, appear to be saying that if the Democratic Party were to take up these issues more that would be acceptable, but it can’t. These were both gatherings endorsed by the liberal wing of the ruling class. Does the BLM movement see itself acting as another Democratic Party pressure group?
It is the protests in Ferguson last year that spread to other countries as well as many cities in the US that to a great extent due to the Black Lives Matter movement, has led to some minor concessions from the state. It was almost unheard of for a cop to be accused of murder, especially involving a black working class male in the urban communities. But where must this movement, or any social movement go if it is to halt the capitalist offensive that is threatening to destroy life as we know it on this earth? We can never have economic justice under capitalism and we certainly can’t eliminate racism either.
Malcolm X wrote in the months before he was assassinated: "It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter." He also stated: "You cannot have capitalism without racism." So he was moving towards working class unity and against capitalism and Martin Luther King was headed in the same direction. It is not an accident that they were assassinated at this point in their political development.
Racism, like religious sectarianism and perhaps the most divisive divide and rule tactic of all, the war on women and women’s oppression in general, benefits those that rule society, those whose wealth is made off the backs of the working class internationally. These divisions weaken us all and undermine class unity and we cannot rid ourselves of this rotten social system without class unity. White workers need to recognize that as it is to us that the white ruling class appeals under the false cloak of racial unity as they have done historically in the US. It has not helped us.
But any activists that want to end racism, sexism and oppression in all its forms no matter what our background must determine the nature of our tactics and activity on whether or not these methods strengthen class unity or undermine it. The BLM movement should extend their battle to take on capitalism as Malcolm X and MLK did, in doing so it should reach out its hand to the European American and Latino American and Asian American and Native American working class and help build a united working class movement against capitalism.
The BLM movement should not be so fixated with the liberals. The real task is to unite and mobilize the working class.