Monday, March 26, 2018

Revolutionary fighters or "Harmless Icons"

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

If you read Lenin's quotes in this image of the great revolutionary Mexican artist Frida Khalo, they apply to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as well. Under pressure from the black working class and the influence these two revolutionary figures were having on the working class as a whole, the US capitalist class was forced to publicly recognize them, naming schools buildings, and boulevards after them, after the very same US ruling class had them murdered. Putin could learn a thing or two from the US state security forces.

Both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, like most genuine fighters were evolving, changing their views, developing an understanding of the world as they moved through it. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis when he went to support striking janitors who were members of my former union AFSCME. When alive they were constantly demonized. 

The FBI constantly harassed MLK sending him threatening letters, sending prostitutes to entrap him, bugging his rooms. They sent him an anonymous letter purportedly from a black person pressuring him to suicide:
"King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

Malcolm X was also moving closer to the organized working class as well. He spoke at Local 1199 rallies supporting that health care local in its battles for decent pay and conditions for its members.  Members of the Memphis Afscme Local and Local 1199 were lower paid and predominantly workers of color. Local 1199 and its left wing leadership faced ongoing harassment and investigation from the US government. Martin Luther King said 1199 was his "favorite union."

Moving toward the organized working class and our organizations was a significant threat to US capitalism as this would tend to bring workers of different backgrounds closer together, lead them on strike together and open the door to undermining the bosses' racist divide and rule strategy. It was bad enough the Civil Rights movement was embarrassing the US throughout the world as it portrayed itself as the cradle of democracy. This was being revealed as the propaganda it was as the most powerful military machine in the world dropped thousands of tons of bombs and chemicals on the Vietnamese people who had, like Iraq, made no threatening moves toward the US at all.

Watching vicious dogs being set upon black people, women, children, the aged, in the US when all they were demanding was basic civil rights expected in a bourgeois democracy did not look good at all either and that's what we were seeing on TV. They learned from bringing the masses live TV coverage of wars and conflicts.

Revolutionary figures like Malcom X and Martin Luther King have almost become carnival characters as their lives are celebrated after death. They are portrayed only as "black" leaders and sometimes you can find them on posters with other famous black leaders like Louis Farrakhan.  Their ideas are never stressed or how they saw the world or what they thought about society and how much they differed from one another. Malcolm X was clearly moving to a socialist position after he traveled to Africa and met revolutionaries there. Martin Luther King led a mass movement and organized the "poor people's" march, hardly a nationalist position and he too was talking about socialism before he was assassinated by the US state. Malcolm X was talking about the revolution being about the oppressed against the oppressor and not being based on skin tone and met the same fate. Louis Farrakhan who took over from Malcolm X at the Harlem mosque had a very different world view. Apart from the inherent sexism in the Nation of Islam philosophy Farrakhan is a proponent of black capitalism with him playing a prominent role.  These three people had very different views of the world, Farrakhan a right winger with the other two clearly on the left.

While Farrakhan is also demonized by the white capitalist ruling class as a means of sowing some terror in to the minds of white workers, it was Martin Luther King and Malcolm X they feared, especially as Malcolm X moved closer to MLK and his approach to building a mass movement and Martin Luther King was openly opposing the war in Vietnam. Farrakhan and his philosophy are no threat to them at all as his worldview is divisive, isolates workers from each other and weakens any offensive against capitalism which is the ideology he embraces.

For the US ruling class, lumping them all together simply as "black" leaders serves their interests well. These three people were as different as chalk and cheese. Of course they all have one thing in common, growing up as black people in a racist society with a violent history, they are all victims of that and they all have to deal with institutionalized racism, but King and Malcolm X had a vision for the future of humanity that could be understood by all workers no matter what their background. Ideas when they become accepted in the mass consciousness are dangerous things.

That's why there is such a powerful effort on the part of the US capitalist class to, as Lenin puts it, "Convert them to harmless icons."

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