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Marxism and Black liberation: a history of the social roots and programs at stake in the rebellion of the US

Por Guillermo Kane

“Fellow Citizens: What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow The hispamockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour. Frederick Douglass, freed slave and abolitionist activist, 4th of July, 1852.

“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country. As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built”, Tom Cotton, republican senator for Arkansas, 26th of July, 2020.

“#AbolishAmerica”

Trending Topic on Twitter USA, 4th of July, 2020

After two months, neither the widely applied open repression, nor symbolic and partial concessions, nor the electoral process which will allow voting another president in three months have succeeded in deactivating the ongoing process of popular rebellion in the United States. This proves that this is a process with deep roots. Contained forces, which were held back for a long time, have gotten out. The reasons for this rebellion respond to such structural contradictions that the ruling class hasn’t yet put together a clear plan to defeat the struggle vigorously displayed on American streets.   

The usual oppression that workers suffer under capitalism has gotten worse because of the capitalist crisis. Ongoing class clashes have converged with an eruption of demands against racial oppression. The detonating element was police brutality and, in particular its systematic use on the black and racial minorities, but you don’t have to dig too deep to see that a broad group of political, social and economic demands have been let loose. In this outbreak, class and racial issues appear deeply intertwined. At the same time, we are seeing the first truly massive multi-racial movement in the history of the United States, despite the fact that the main banner in the struggle, Black Lives Matter, refers only to one of the exploited groups.    

This nominally racial rebellion is showing its depth, as it expresses itself in places of work, accelerating an unprecedented reanimation of the labor movement that hasn’t been seen in almost a century. The last serious rebellion in the empire, in 1968, was, on the contrary, in the course of a deep decline of organized labor. To the questioning of the control of bosses, another undeniable challenge to private property is added: massive tenant strike movements, when economic and sanitary disaster puts millions under the threat of eviction. This racial movement, if that is what it is, is undeniably anti-capitalist. 

To those who try to analyze the different social relationships of exploitation in society as completely separate categories, this development may seem like a real enigma. But in the historical life of a nation and its classes, their extended struggle, it is impossible to establish this distinction.

The United States, the world power that embodies implanting capitalism globally as a form of domination with a universality without comparison to any other empire in history, has a history which cannot be understood except by understanding the particular oppression of different peoples and the economic and social roles that were assigned to them in the nation’s development

The fragmentation of US labor is far from being an accident. It is an active policy of the ruling class, which has mobilized enormous human and material resources in order to build itself as a world power. Anyone who analyzes the composition and origin of the population of the US and the human resources it applies in any field, in this moment in history or any, will know that the accumulation of wealth, culture and technical capacity in the United States are strictly international creations. The division of labor in the US has given the ruling class greater room to maneuver, super-exploiting part of the workers, while a, mostly white, labor aristocracy could enjoy some privileges, as a result of the benefits of the exploitation not only of local minorities but also of the economic, military and political domination established in the colonial and semi-colonial world. 

Capitalist crisis has worsened the suffering of all exploited peoples, but under the proportions and forms of oppression historically developed in the country. Therefore, the tensions incubated by all races, all the oppressed, exploded first in relation to one fraction, whose living conditions, already low, became really intolerable within the context of the deep economic and sanitary crisis. It is impossible to break this particular structure of oppression without confronting with the capitalist development on which the rise of the United States as an imperial power has based itself. 

Slavery as a foundational characteristic of the United States

 “There is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States[1]”. It has centuries of head-start on South Africa and Israel as a colonized enclave based on racial exploitation and extermination.

Unlike Columbus and the Spanish conquerors, the colonists of the state of Virginia were incapable of forcing the local natives to work for them. After a famine that almost killed all colonists in the winters of 1609-1610, in 1617 they could send a first harvest of tobacco to England, at great economic benefit. In 1619, Virginia was added as a recipient of the slave traffic from Africa, which was directed until then to Spanish and Portuguese colonies. After eighty years, the 170 thousand slaves in Virginia made up half of the population.

Slavery didn’t have a supplementary character, it was the founding condition of the economy of the English colony that predates the United States. The implementation of such a system of exploitation was not imposed peacefully. While ongoing and daily violence was applied to discipline slaves, they carried out at least 250 riots against the enslavers’ regime. 

The Declaration of Independence of the thirteen colonies from England was not a step forward for the freedom of African slaves and native peoples. On the contrary, American rebels accused the English for encouraging both against their masters in their efforts to subdue the colonies. A paragraph of the declaration proposed by Thomas Jefferson, which condemned the King of England’s role in fostering the slave trade, was crossed out from the approved version, proving the limited character of the assertion stating that “all men were created equal”.  

The federal character of the new republic was defined in its Constitution, written by the representatives of the new ruling classes: “most of the makers of the Constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government: the manufacturers needed protective tariffs; the moneylenders wanted to stop the use of paper money to pay off debts; the land speculators wanted protection as they invaded Indian lands; slave owners needed federal security against slave revolts and runaways; bondholders wanted a government able to raise money by nationwide taxation, to pay off those bonds.”[2].

In the 19th Century there was a dizzying process of territorial expansion of the new nation across the continent, at the expense of the systematic extermination of natives, violating treaty after treaty, and the cruel expansionist war against Mexico, occupying California on the costs of the Pacific Ocean by 1850. The ideology that guided this expansion was a racist speech that said that the United States was a providential county and that it should subordinate, or civilize savage, lazy and unproductive people according to a divine “manifest destiny” which predestined the rise of the United States. This doctrine is the foundation of the State policy and ruling culture in the country to this day.

It was also an era of great expansion of slavery and its economic importance. Between 1790 and 1860, the South went from producing a thousand tons of cotton per year to producing one million tons. The enslaver south was the privileged supplier of the textile industry of the famous industrial revolution of Manchester, England. In the same period, the slave population grew from 500 thousand to 4 million. The importation of slaves was illegalized in 1808, but this was just a formality. It is calculated that after the illegalization a quarter of a million slaves were brought from Africa.

Liberation and compromise: the genesis of modern United States

Until the outbreak of the American Civil War, the tension between the enslaver south that wanted to keep exporting raw materials to the capitalist world market and the industrial capitalism that was developing in the north were looking for a balance in the design of the national state. In 1845, Texas adhered as an enslaver state, while California in 1850 was incorporated as a “free” state. As compensation, in 1850 the fugitive slave act was voted, which provided a federal frame to hunt slaves that were escaping from the slaver south. 

The war between North and South broke out due to the economic and social incompatibilities of opposed national projects.  To enter into the world market as a provider of raw materials or as an industrial power implicated another structure for the federal state and different policies in all areas. The program of northern bourgeoisie required a massive free distribution of lands to colonists, a free labor market, a protectionist tariff for industry and a national bank. The status of black slaves was not part of their demands. However, the social mobilization that the war required brought into play forces that were not expected by the chiefs of the north.  

Four years of war, between 1861 and 1865, left 600 thousand deaths over a total population of 30 million. Slaves massively escaped from the fields to the north ranks as soon as they had the chance. Only the bloody and extended character of the civil war forced Abraham Lincoln to move forward the emancipation of the slaves to recruit them to the northern army as a weapon to undermine secessionist confederation and defeat it. The Confiscation Act of 1862, addressed exclusively against the slave owners that had risen up against the Union, would be left unimplemented for years, until the roar of combat accelerated events. The surrender of the South was hastened because in order to keep fighting they would also need to enlist slaves to their ranks, as confederate  general Robert E. Lee proposed, assuring them a modification in their social status.   

All revolutionaries of that time followed with great interest the development of the American Civil War. The First International was partly founded through the international relationships established by those who mobilized in Europe for the triumph of the republican north. Karl Marx published his positions in a series of articles written in real time for The New York Tribune and Die Presse of Viena

“Marx saw the American Civil war as a second American revolution (…) a bourgeois and democratic revolution that could be precursor of a communist revolution in Europe. His prediction was not wrong, it was proved by the Paris Commune, the working class insurrection that erupted in France a few years after the end of the American Civil war”.

“For Marx, ‘to tear down the power of the slavers and set the slaves free didn’t necessarily destroy capitalism, but it would create much better conditions to organize and become the workers aware, whether they are black or white’. This way, the war would create new possibilities for the black and white American working class”. 

 

“The American Civil War also had important economic implications related to land and property. The emancipation of four million slaves, with no compensation for their “owners”, would mean, economically, the greatest expropriation of private property in history thus far. Marx was also hopeful, along with the abolitionists and liberal republicans – and in general the socialists – that in the occupied South, reconstruction after war policies would lead, beyond the establishment of new political rights for former slaves, towards a real agricultural revolution that would destroy the old slave plantations and redistribute the lands. The radical republican program, proposed by vice-president Wade, promised to grant 16 hectares (forty acres) and a mule to freed slaves. That program was filed away when the most conservative wing of the Republican Party rose to power, after Lincoln’s death”[3].

 

Without land, blacks didn’t become free men. Servitude continued to be a reality, although they were formally free. At the request of Lincoln, National Congress gave back the expropriated lands from slaver landowners that fought along with the rebels to their own families and heirs, not to the emancipated slaves.

However, immediately after the war, during the period known as Reconstruction, which signaled the development of civil and political freedom for black people in the South, there were many black elected representatives and laws that posed equal access to all scope of society, including original projects of public education. However, the modern structure of the United States does not stem from this progressive period, but from the agreement of suppression of these liberties between northern bourgeoisie and south oligarchy. The terrorist campaign of the Ku Klux Klan and other similar groups were the main weapon to pose the terms of the negotiation. They carried on the massive campaign of killings, violations, house burning, schools and churches of black community.

In 1877, republican candidate Rutheford Hayes got southern support in the Electoral College in exchange for a new historical compromise between northern industrialists and southern landowners. The Northern army would withdraw, leaving the territory in the grip of the lynch  mobs. The victorious industrial bourgeoisie led the central policy of the federal state, but left racial discipline unscathed and launched an economic program of agricultural subsidies for the producers of the south. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 which illegalized black exclusion from hotels, theaters, trains and other public services was annulled by the Supreme Court in 1883. By 1900, all the states from the south had placed in their constitutions the legal elimination of political rights for black people and the segregation.

 “The year 1877 set the limits for the rest of the century: It would put black people in their place, strikes from white workers wouldn’t be tolerated, and industrial and political elites from north and south would take control of the country and organize the greatest rhythm of economic growth in human history. And they would do this with the help – and at the expense of – black, white and Chinese workers, also European immigrants and the work of women. They would be rewarded differently according to their race, sex, nationality and social class, in such way that they would create different levels of oppression – a clever stepped to stabilize wealth pyramid[4]”. The fragmentation of the working class has been and still is a powerful tool of the American bourgeoisie. In spite of the combative activity of the rising American labor movement, that touched the whole world (the Chicago martyrs!), the rising unions would not enroll black workers or they would impose them to do so in separate sections. The AFL would not enroll black workers in their ranks. The IWW and the CIO, in the 20th century, would enroll them, but without organizing any demands for the specific oppression they suffer, an issue they would ignore.

Empire rising

The last decades of the 19th century saw, along with the development of a great technical revolution, a process of concentration of the ruling class that generated trusts and monopolies which controlled prices in whole branches of the economy. That concentration was not only done at the expense of super-exploitation and inflated prices but also of millionaire embezzlements of federal state funds. The scandalous bribes and surcharges in the installation of transoceanic railways gave the title of “robber barons” to the great magnates that made their wealth in that period, like John D. Rockefeller with Standard Oil, J.P. Morgan with U.S Steel and others in a small group of millionaires. The necessary capital to install a company was inaccessible without a bank credit, merging financial with industrial capital. The time of free competition and free market economy had ended. 

All characteristics that led the revolutionary Vladimir Lenin to characterize imperialism as the era of capitalist decline in the early 20th century were beginning to emerge. It was the sign of the rise of the monopoly, financial capital and the conquest of the world by a small group of global powers. This was the context in which the United States became an expansionist power on a global scale.

With the Wounded Knee Massacre of Lakota warriors in 1890, internal expansion was completely finished. The eyes of the US bourgeoisie started to look to the world. This was not something completely new. Between 1798 and 1895, the United States army had been involved in 103 interventions abroad to impose the defense of its economic interests. But in 1898 there was a qualitative leap with the war against Spain, dispossessing it from the last colonial possessions that this European country in frank decay could not defend.     

“The Spanish-American war was an important element in the conformation and the emergence of Yankee imperialism, which occupied in a period of two years Cuba, Puerto Rico (subdued until today), Guam (in the Pacific), Hawaii and the Philippines. At the beginning of the century it forced Panamá independence from Colombia to be able to permanently occupy the vicinity of the interoceanic canal. Between 1900 and 1933, American troops were sent four times to Cuba, twice to Nicaragua, six times to Panama; seven times to Honduras and the black republic of Haiti between 1915 to 1934. Such a huge history of sacking and slavery played a central role in the distribution of the world by imperialist powers and the emergence of a new world capitalist era”[5].

 

Cuba was formally liberated from Spain, but under American military occupation which remained until a constitutional amendment was added that made yankee tutelage on its government explicit. The decision to keep Puerto Rico, but without giving it the status of a state in the Union nor political rights to its residents placed the United States indisputably in the position of colonial power[6].  

 

Communism and self-determination

The foundation of the Third International after the triumph of the Russian Revolution and the end of World War One responded to the bankruptcy of the social-democratic Second International, whose most important national leaderships lined up after the ruling classes of their imperialist powers at war.  

The new international was enriched by the advance made by Lenin and other Bolshevik militants in understanding the imperialist character of the new capitalist era and how it could use part of its profits extracted from oppressed people of different countries from all around the world to give partial privileges to part of the working class of imperialist countries, a labor aristocracy. This privileged part of the working class was the social base for the adaptation of part of the socialist movement to the states of those imperialist powers.

The theses of the  new communist International thesis gave special importance to the uprisings of oppressed nations against imperialist powers as a definite test that separates revolutionaries from the old reformist social-democracy and as a key to move forward towards seizing power. The self-determination of oppressed countries under the Tsarist Empire had been a decisive element, together with the peasant’s demand for land, for achieving the support that the revolutionary proletariat needed to defeat old ruling classes. 

In line with this understanding, Russian communist leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky were deeply critical of American leftists that, continuing the attitude of its original organizations, like the old Socialist Party or the anarcho-syndicalist IWW, made no specific organizing efforts nor put forward slogans regarding black oppression in the United States, limiting themselves to the general idea that the demands of workers of all races would be fulfilled under socialism. Under the altruist ideal of being above the division of races, the Russian revolutionaries saw this adaptation to the racist statu quo, and pointed it out.

This discussion was present in the fourth congress of Communist International of 1922 and resulted in the voting of the “Theses on the black question”. These Theses said that because of the place occupied by blacks in the United States, they would play an important role in the rebellion of all African countries against colonial and imperialist oppression. Of course, they tied the result of the struggle for liberation of the black people to the efforts of the working class and all colonial oppressed people.   

It went on to consider that “The Black question has become an essential part of the world revolution. The Communist International has already recognised what worthwhile help the Coloured peoples of Asia can provide in the semi-colonial countries. It views the assistance of our oppressed Black fellow human beings as absolutely necessary for proletarian revolution and the destruction of capitalist power. For these reasons, the Fourth Congress assigns to Communists the special responsibility to apply the ‘Theses on the Colonial Question’ to the situation of Blacks (…) The Fourth Congress considers it essential to support every form of the Black movement that either undermines or weakens capitalism or places barriers in the path of its further expansion.[7].  

Applying the thesis on the national question meant identifying national and democratic demands that could not be fulfilled by the bourgeois leadership of oppressed countries, but through the support and joint struggle with the proletariat. The support to the struggle against imperialist and colonial oppression, as a way to foster socialist revolution, and as a part of a continuous, permanent  movement, as in the expression of Marx’s which was then taken by Trotsky to elaborate revolutionary strategy in Russia since 1905.  

The assimilation of these thesis made the Communist Party of the United States stand out in practice for a whole period for the effort to organize a militant presence within black community.

In 1928, the stalinized Communist International voted a forced interpretation of the support for black people’s self-determination, demanding the artificial split of a black nation, proposing the separation of the southern states which have a majority of black population, with no relation to the concrete demands of black movement. This policy was carried out during the ultra-leftist third period of the Comintern, though it never had a real popular impact. The CP of the USA did play an important role in this period with the defense of an emblematic case to which they gave the character of a real international campaign, the defense of the Scottsboro boys, eight black teenagers condemned for the completely fabricated rape of young white women. The CP, in a moderated turn fostered by the bureaucracy of the USSR, pressured part of those accused to declare themselves guilty in order to get an arrangement of absolution for the other defendants[8].     

The black militancy which had won an important place in American communism broke with the Party almost in its entirety with its next turn, towards the popular front and support for the Franklin D. Roosevelt New Deal government. The subordination to a collaboration with the Democratic Party which supported racial segregation in the south was a sure dead end.

In the Trotskyist American movement which stood up against stalinization and went through different organizational forms(Communist League of America, Workers Party, Socialist Workers Party) there was a great delay in taking up specific efforts towards organizing the black movement. Leon Trotsky was consulted several times by American leaders, and by CLR James, a black Trostkist from the West Indies, who would become a very important organizer and theorist of black question. His interventions in these conversations are an important source to recover the revolutionary communist position on the black question in the United States. In spite of the almost ninety years that have past, in which there have been great developments in the black liberation movement, the general lines of Trotsky’s analysis retain an extraordinary validity and even anticipate some characteristics that the black movement acquired in its subsequent development.

In the interview carried out on this issue in Prinkipo, Turkey, in 1933, Trotsky discussed the American’s Trotskyists position of focusing the demands on “equal rights” for black people: “The point of view of the American comrades appears to me not fully convincing. ‘Self-determination’ is a democratic demand. Our American comrades advance as against this democratic demand, the liberal demand. This liberal demand is, moreover, complicated. I understand what ‘political equality’ means. But what is the meaning of economical and social equality within capitalist society? Does that mean a demand to public opinion that all enjoy the equal protection of the laws? But that is political equality. The slogan ‘political, economic and social equality’ sounds equivocal and while it is not clear to me it nevertheless suggests itself easy of misinterpretation.[9]

About the use of the slogan self-determination Trotsky specified: We do, of course, not obligate the Negroes to become a nation; if they are, then that is a question of their consciousness, that is, what they desire and what they strive for. We say: If the Negroes want that then we must fight against imperialism to the last drop of blood, so that they gain the right, wherever and how they please, to separate a piece of land for themselves. The fact that they are today not a majority in any state does not matter. It is not a question of the authority of the states but of the Negroes. (...)To the workers in the Southern states the liberal demand for ‘social, political and economic equality’ would undoubtedly mean progress, but the demand for ‘self-determination’ a greater progress. However, with the slogan ‘social, political and economic equality’ they can much easier be misled (‘according to the law you have this equality’).”

“When we are so far that the Negroes say we want autonomy; they then take a position hostile toward American imperialism. At that stage already the workers will be much more determined than the petty bourgeoisie. The workers will then see that the petty bourgeoisie is incapable of struggle and gets nowhere, but they will also recognize simultaneously that the white Communist workers fight for their demands and that will push them, the Negro proletarians, toward Communism.”

“(T)he ‘self-determination’ of the Negroes belongs to the question of the permanent revolution in America. The Negroes will through their awakening, through their demand for autonomy, and through the democratic mobilization of their forces, be pushed on toward the class basis. The petty bourgeoisie will take up the demand for ‘social, political, and economic equality’ and for ‘self-determination’ but prove absolutely incapable in the struggle; the Negro proletariat will march crier the petty bourgeoisie in the direction toward the proletarian revolution. That is perhaps for them the most important road. I can therefore see no reason why we should not advance the demand for ‘self-determination’.”

What can we lose in this question when we go ahead with our demands, and what have the Negroes today to lose? We do not compel them to separate from the States, but they have the full right to self-determination when they so desire and we will support and defend them with all the means at our disposal in the [conquest] of this right, the same as we defend all oppressed peoples.

When the black movement recognized itself as a community separate from the interests of the  Yankee state and understood that to achieve freedom it would have to go up against the state ruling apparatus, and the hostility against the imperialism that oppresses them nationally took the movement to an international understanding of their struggle, of the united interests they share with all oppressed peoples of the world that fight against imperialism. The perspective of “equal rights” which was criticized by Trotsky for being an ambiguous formal reformist point of view, has been the perspective followed by part of the Civil Rights movement that integrated itself into the Yankee state by the hand of Democratic Party, and also of the part of the left that has dissolved the struggle for liberation in a post-modern perspective of “identity” politics.  

Trotsky though did not deny support for elemental democratic demands. “I believe that also the demand for ‘social, political and economic equality’ should remain and I do not speak against this demand. It is progressive to the extent that it is not realized. (...) The Negroes are not yet awakened and they are not yet united with the white workers. 99.9 percent of the American workers are chauvinists, in relation to the Negroes they are hangmen and they are so also toward the Chinese. It is necessary to teach the American beasts. It is necessary to make them understand that the American state is not their state and that they do not have to be the guardians of this state. Those American workers who say: ‘The Negroes should separate when they so desire and we will defend them against our American police’—those are revolutionists, I have confidence in them.The argument that the slogan for ‘self-determination’ leads away from the class basis is an adaptation to the ideology of the white workers.”

“The American worker is indescribably reactionary. (...) I believe that by the unheard-of political and theoretical backwardness and the unheard-of economic advance the awakening of the working class will proceed quite rapidly. The old ideological covering will burst, all questions will emerge at once, and since the country is so economically mature the adaptation of the political and theoretical to the economic level will be achieved very rapidly. It is then possible that the Negroes will become the most advanced section. (...) They will then furnish the vanguard. I am absolutely sure that they will in any case fight better than the white workers.”

These comments foresaw the role of radicalized vanguard that the black movement would play thirty years later, and made a brilliant analysis of the material base of the disdain of generations of Yankee leftists on the black question, as we can still see today, with so-called “Marxist” arguments.

Trotsky highlighted that the self-determination position had already been expressed, in a distorted way, by the “back-to-Africa” separatist movement, led by Marcus Garvey. “What you said about the Garvey movement is interesting—but it proves that we must be cautious and broad and not base ourselves upon the status quo. The black woman who said to the white woman, ‘Wait until Marcus is in power. We will know how to treat you then’, was simply expressing her desire for her own state. The American Negroes gathered under the banner of the ‘Back to Africa’ movement because it seemed a possible fulfillment of their wish for their own home. They did not want actually to go to Africa. It was the expression of a mystic desire for a home in which they would be free of the domination of the whites, in which they themselves could control their own fate. That also was a wish for self-determination. It was once expressed by some in a religious form and now it takes the form of a dream of an independent state.[10]

In the debate with CLR James and comrades from the SWP, Trotsky supported the, never concreted, project of promoting an independent black movement, with the involvement of militants from the SWP, to build a movement for mass struggle. 

Potential and limits of formal equality

The rise of the black movement in the 50s and 60s had a first period linked to the struggle for civil rights –this is to say, for ending segregation and achieving political rights. The starting point of the rise was a Supreme Court verdict against school segregation in the district of Topeka in 1954. Moderate groups that demanded civil rights, like the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), had been working for decades on this type of presentations and achieving some favorable verdicts, which however needed huge struggles to actually be implemented.

The movement really got underway in Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, in 1955, after the famous arrest of black worker Rosa Parks, for denying to give her seat to a white man in the bus and go to the back of the bus reserved for blacks. The subsequent boycott of the transport company by the black community of the city had to face arrests, violent attacks and bombs against its community centers. Within the next year, the Supreme Court determined the illegality of segregation in transport companies. In the course of the movement the reverend protestant Martin Luther King Jr. stood out as a leader, and together with his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gave the movement a strong stamp of non-violent actions, demanding the integration to civic life of the United States by looking for support from the progressive wing of officials in charge of the state against southern racists. Verdicts and laws were often imposed on local authorities by federal forces, although always after exposing those that stood for these demands to repression by the state or paramilitary forces.

 “The beginning of the Vietnam war strengthened the civil rights movement. Just like it had happened during World War Two, blacks had to carry the heaviest burden in the imperialist war adventure. Blacks were not only recruited in a higher proportion than whites to the army, but they were also assigned riskier tasks and died in greater numbers. In the metropolis they were hit harder by inflation and the reduction of social programs generated by the war”[11].

Every protest, every “Freedom Ride” (multi-racial trips of activists to sites of conflict in the south), was exposed to new repressive incidents, arrests and racial violence. Meanwhile, the struggle was becoming famous across the world. In 1963, the massive march for civil rights in Washington took place. The immediate response was a bomb in a church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four little black girls.

The response of national and international public opinion forced Congress to vote the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that made any form of segregation or racial discrimination illegal, and provided full electoral rights to blacks. In 1964, in the apotheotic moment of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize.

One thing, of course, was to have the right to vote and be elected and another was to be able to use it. The “Freedom Summer” campaign to register voters in southern states by civil rights organizations was violently confronted by the KKK, which killed three volunteers in Mississippi. The Democratic Party of President Johnson that had approved civil reforms, was still being led in the south by the heirs of the slavers, who openly endorsed white supremacy. The Freedom Summer campaign formed a local political party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, that requested to be recognized by the Democratic Party convention and was rejected by instructions from Johnson himself, who preferred to preserve the relationship with the traditional racist structure of his party. 

But especially from the point of view of the populated ghettos of the big cities of the north and west, the situation for blacks wasn’t seeing any real improvement after the end of racial segregation in the south. The 20thCentury had seen a long exodus of the black population from the south and the fields, which needed less and less workforce to work them. Between 1916 and 1940, a million and a half blacks had gone to the north. In the successive migrations between 1940 and 1970 4 million more would leave. By 1970, 50% of the black population was in the north and 80% in the cities. Legal “equal rights” were a demand and a struggle that every revolutionary was forced to support. And for those suffering segregation, it was an effective conquest. But that conquest would soon show its limits, anticipating that the struggle of the black community for self-determination was still a necessity. 

The fury unleashed and its spokesmen

Malcolm X, the main media spokesperson for the Nation of Islam (NOI), a group founded in 1930 and led by Elijah Muhamad -which combined the separatism of the Marcus Garvey movement, promoting the formation of black capitalists and a loose version of Muslim religion-, was the main voce that expressed the growing dissatisfaction with the focus on reforms to achieve civil equality and the tactics of non-violent resistance impressed on the black movement by the civil rights organizations. The separation fostered by black Muslims involved promoting companies with black owners and the separation of several states to conform a new nation. This was an organization with authoritarian, obscurantist, sexist and anti-scientific characteristics. They responded to racial hate of the white ruling class with the version that all blacks are saints and all whites are the devil. Its condemnation of racial oppression and its hard and disciplined character were of great appeal to young blacks from big cities and even inside jails, where Malcolm himself joined the NOI, as well as a future leader of the Black Panthers, Eldridge Cleaver. 

Malcolm X himself was going through an ideological evolution, going beyond the racial-religious discourse of Muhamad and taking his political agitation further than this self-proclaimed prophet and his organization were willing to sustain. His speeches and public appearances in the media provided him with a platform for a huge agitation on matters that included racial oppression in the history of the United States, the role of domestic and international oppression and a systematic opposition  to the integrationist policy of the civil rights movement[12].

After a scandal regarding Malcolm X’s comments on the killing of President John F. Kennedy (in which he said “it was a case of the chickens coming home to roost”, referring to the hate and violence fostered by the Yankee state) Elijah Muhamad suspended him as a spokesman of the Nation.

The political turn sharpened more and more. In 1963 he said that the whites were not doomed by their race, but by the continuity of black oppression. He also redefined his positions in regards to the demand for self-determination of the black community, not the conformation of a separate state. With the formal split with Muhamad and the NOI in 1964 he completely abandoned the idea of political abstentionism that guided that organization. He outlined the need of a united front of black organizations, leaving aside the squabbles fostered by Muhamad. He joined campaigns against racial segregation, working side by side with civil rights organizations, though he never agreed with their integrationist program. He also outlined the necessity that Black Nationalism structure itself as a political force.     

In 1964 he launched an organization, with no religious characteristics, to channel his new militant outlook, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  He proposed to prepare the electoral intervention of black people, independently both of  the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, saying that freedom must be conquered by any means necessary , through the vote or the bullet. He outlined the formation of self-defense units for the black community to respond to and defeat racist violence. 

He outlined the possibility to collaborate with people of any race: “We don’t care if you are Christian or Jewish or whatever you are. If you are sick of the suffering conditions of black people in this country and you want to play an active role, then we want to help you to organize” In another opportunity, when he was asked whether he would accept a white member, he answered he would accept John Brown, a white abolitionist that led an armed uprising against slavers before the Civil War. He was a speaker in rallies organized by the SWP in New York, which was organizing a national tour when he was murdered.    

The political differences between Malcolm and  Luther King and the integrationist organizations were deeper than ever. He made a conclusive statement about The March on Washington organized by King and his allies, in which he participated as an observant. “Black people were on the streets. They were talking about how they would march on Washington… We're going to march on Washington, march on the Senate, march on the White House, march on the Congress, and tie it up, bring it to a halt; don't let the government proceed. It was ordinary people on the streets. That terrified the whites and also the white power in Washington. That is what they achieved with the march on Washington. They joined it, became a part of it, they took possession of it… It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all. They controlled it so tight — they told those Negroes what time to hit town, how to come, where to stop, what signs to carry, what song to sing, what speech they could make, and what speech they couldn’t make; and then told them to get out town by sundown.” He accused reformist organizations of consciously using the march as a “release-valve to canalize black people’s frustrations”, when there was a general concern about potential violence and social explosions.     

In December 1964, a month and a half before his murder, he explained that he had abandoned the idea of a racial Armageddon with a fixed date, but he said “I believe that there will be ultimately a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don't think it will be based on the color of the skin...”

Louis Farrakhan, successor of Muhamad in the NOI, had said that “a man like Malcolm deserves death”. His murder, in a public rally on the 21st of February of 1965, by the hand of a Muslim hitman, shows strong signs of official involvement. Recently it became known that he had been intensively followed by the CIA, the FBI and the NYPD. He had suffered four attacks against his life before and no measures of protection were taken. There was a undercover policeman at the scene of the crime, Gene Roberts, who later infiltrated the Black Panthers and was identified as a police agent in a subsequent trial. A recent documentary released in 2020 showed convincingly that two of the three detained and accused of his murder by the FBI were in fact innocent, and the case was reopened this year[13]. The state machinery that incarcerated, infiltrated, divided and murder a whole generation of activists was present in Malcolm X’s murder.     

The coming explosion which, according to Malcolm X, could be felt in the air did not take long to arrive. In 1965, a rebellion exploded in Watts, a black neighborhood of Los Angeles, and was the beginning of a series of rebellion in ghettos all around the country, which expressed the huge discontent with poverty, unemployment, daily police brutality and the increasing number of conscripts sent to the stagnant war in Vietnam. In 1966 rebellions exploded in Chicago, New York, Baltimore, San Francisco and Cleveland. In 1967 there were 164 rebellions of different levels of gravity.   

These rebellions, that showed the profound unrest of the black community despite the implementation of reforms of formal equality, put the civil rights movement in a deep crisis. The youth organization Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), that had been part of the whole process of demands against segregation, headed into a process of radicalization towards black nationalism, launching the Black Power slogan. The rebellion had even impacted on the veteran reverend King’s convictions, who in 1968 for the first time connected black poverty in the ghetto with the oppression imposed in other countries by the United States, condemning the Vietnam War. King was planning to install a camp in front of the White House in Washington, putting forth the urgent demands of black community. King, who was being watched and chased by the FBI, was murdered in his hotel when he went to support a strike of sanitation workers in Memphis, in 1968. The murder of the Nobel Peace Prize, of the black leader that made the greaatest effort to show himself as friendly to the establishment, was the sign to extend and strengthen the riots and lootings siultaneously in 120 cities, where the National Guard was deployed to repress the protests. 

In 1968, the economic crisis; the huge difficulties in the Vietnam war, where the bloody battles set loose by Tet Offensive, carried out by the Vietcong at the beginning of the year, refuted the government’s triumphalist spins; the rising of the student movement along with the black movement, and the women’s movement, converging against the war, untied a huge political crisis, in spite of the fact that the labor movement remained in a downswing and therefore it did not have an organized participation in this period of popular uprising[14].

Black Panthers: organization and program

The Black Panthers Party for self-defense, one of the many organizations of Black Nationalism that emerged from the radicalization of the movement, best expressed the deep break between that generation of black militants and the whole Yankee political regime. Its perspective did not restrict itself to confronting racism and segregation, but also capitalism and the oppressive role of United States imperialism. The Cuban revolution and the struggle against French colonialism in Algeria were a huge influence in the anti-imperialist outlook that the movement as a whole and the Panthers in particular were taking[15].  

The organization, founded at the end of 1966 by the university students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, declared itself as a part of a world revolution against Yankee imperialism. “Unlike civil rights activists who advocated for full citizenship rights within the United States, their Black Panther Party rejected the legitimacy of the U.S. government. The Panthers saw black communities in the United States as a colony and the police as an occupying army. In a foundational 1967 essay, Newton wrote, “Because black people desire to determine their own destiny, they are constantly inflicted with brutality from the occupying army, embodied in the police department. There is a great similarity between the occupying army in Southeast Asia and the occupation of our communities by the racist police.” A the beginning of 1968, the BPP was a local organization in Oakland, a working class city with a large black population that shares the bay with San Francisco, dedicated mostly to organizing an armed and uniformed watch over police action in the community (using the legislation that allowed to carry registered weapons as well as observing police force procedures) . By the end of the year they had opened offices in twenty cities from coast to coast. By 1970 they had organizations in 68 cities, occupying the center of the revolutionary movement in the United States in their brief but intense rise[16]

The organization adopted some Marxist elements and reclaimed a wide array of revolutionary theorists and leaders from Lenin to Mao, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and the National Liberation Front of Algeria. They took most of their political thinking from the anti-imperialist thinker Frantz Fanon, who was a member of the NLF. They didn’t recognize the working class as the revolutionary subject and thought that the lumpenproletariat had high revolutionary potential. 

Their main program was a ten point platform that started with the definition of freedom for the people as the self-determination for black community, voted in a plebiscite by the black community, the right to work, the right to housing, to an education in line with the needs of the black community, the exemption of military service for black men, the end to violence and police murders, freedom for all imprisoned blacks and the trial of black people taken to Court in future by a jury of taken from their black communities. One of the points that condemned the robbery of the black community by whites was replaced later by “robbery by the capitalists” and detailed the need to collect the promised reparations to freed slaves of forty acres and two mules in the 20th century, with the calculation of pending interests to be collectively distributed throughout the community. They argued that if Germany was forced to pay Israel for the 6 million dead jews, American racists, that had murdered 50 million colored people, should pay their part as well.

Although their political practice emphasized the armament of the black community as a base for their protection, for which the United States has an important legal frame, the Panthers did not organize offensive armed actions against the state or the security forces, in the way many groups that practiced guerrilla warfare or foquismo were conducting their activites in many countries in those same years. The center of their political practice was based on the defense of the neighborhoods against police brutality. In addition to that, since 1969 they implemented a varied and complex neighborhood projects, with donations and contributions from the community and external political sympathizers. The project that achieved the most profound development was the free breakfast program which at its height functioned in 36 cities. Only in Oakland and San Francisco it fed 12 thousand children. Other important projects were several self-managed clinics; laboratories for the research of issues that particularly affected the black community, such as anemia caused by sickle shaped cells; free distribution of food, shoes and clothing; support groups to quit drugs; community ambulance services; community buses to organize visits to relatives in jail, “liberation” schools with a reformulated curriculum and squads to avoid evictions in the neighborhood.   

Rather than internationalists, they define themselves as “inter-communalists”, calling for the convergence of organizations which represent the different communities. They fostered the organization of groups modelled on the Black Panthers in Asian immigrant communities, among Puerto Ricans and native peoples. They demanded of white activists that they organize their communities for the struggle, promoting United Fronts, such as the one they organized with the Peace and Freedom Party that carried panther Eldridge Cleaver as candidate for president, but rejecting to build a common organization.

The BPP concept of self-determination did not refer to the formation of a new state in America nor tying itself to the fate of the Pan-African liberation movement, but to convergence in defeating and dismantling the global empire of the United States. Huey Newton, consolidated as the main leader of the BPP, wrote: “let us consider black Americans. Tied only historically to Africa, they can lay no real claim to territory in theUS or Africa. Black Americans have only  the cultural and social traditions that have evolved from centuries of oppression. In other words, US blacks form not a subjugated colony but an oppressed community inside larger boundaries. What, then, do the words  “black nationalism” concretely mean to the US black? Not forming anything resembling a nation presently, shall US blacks somehow seize (or possibly be “given”) US land and expect to claim sovereignty as a nation? In he face of the existent power of the United States over the entire world, such a nation could only be a fantasy that could lead to the extinction of a race”.

Newton drew critical conclusions from the conservative position of the Stalinist bureaucracy, to which he assigned a huge responsibility for the strengthening of Yankee imperialism: “Russia’s first mistake came in the form of an incorrect analysis: that socialism could co-exist peacefully with capitalist nations. It was a blow to the communities of the whole world that led directly to the crippling of the people’s ability to oppose capitalist/imperialist aggression and aggression’s character (…) Russians allowed this to happen by naiveté or treachery. Regardless of how this came about, they damaged the ability of the Third World to resist.[17]

The quick growth of the Panthers made them a target for state repression. Infiltration, murders and imprisonment of many of its members played an important role in the process of its division and disintegration. The leadership was rapidly dislocated through imprisonment, murder and exile. After the Watergate scandal, parliamentary committees researched intelligence forces performance and declassified many files, showing the existence of a massive Program of counterespionage (Cointelpro), operated by the FBI and directed against internal political opponents. Between 1956 and 1971, Cointelpro took 295 measures against black groups. This included forging letters to provoke internal conflicts, robberies and proof that they had organized the murder of Chicago Panther leader , Fred Hampton. Left organizations, such as the SWP, were also an important target. 

These investigations made public an internal statement of 1968 from the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, which says that the main objective of Cointelpro is “to prevent the coalition of combative nationalist black groups (…) an effective coalition of nationalist black groups would be the first step to a real “Mau Mau[18] in the United States, the beginning of a real black revolution”. Based on this, he calls to block the development of leaders of these movements, to “localize potential troublemakers and neutralize them”, to discredit these organizations in eyes of the public and damage their influence among young people. 

In July of 1969, Hoover publicly claimed that the “Black Panthers Party represented, doubtlessly, the biggest threat to internal security of the country”. Hoover assured himself that the disruption activity of BPP would target specifically the interruption of the Breakfast Program for children in order to damage insertion of Panthers in the community.

The electoral victory of right-winger Richard Nixon, who promised to impose law and order against popular rebellion, was the sign for repressive forces to organize armed incursions on BPP offices. Huey Newton's order was to defend with arms every home and office attacked by security forces.  

In the context of military clashes with the State, carried out separately, in which security forces chose when to hit and prepared themselves systematically, a devastating blitz was carried out against the organization. The position of responding to the offensive militarily, without generating a democratic mobilization to support the organization (just like they did with the campaign for Huey Newton’s freedom, with which they expanded throughout the county) seems,in the face of the outcome, a political mistake paid for dearly.  

The BPP, divided and subdued under immense pressure, imploded. Undoubtedly, it had a massive political impact and left a huge legacy, but they couldn’t manage to promote a mobilization that could break the repressive operation that was launched..

The achievements of 50 years of “black capitalism”

The ruling classes carried out a policy aimed at avoiding a new riot of the black masses. In a meeting of the moderate movements NAACP and Core (Congress of Racial Equality) at the White House with the Chase Manhattan Bank and Rockefeller family a plan to develop “black capitalism” was announced. They made sure to show more black faces in the media. In the course of the 70s, thousands of blacks were voted into public office, most of them coming from the integrationist wing of the civil rights movement or their political heirs, integrated as part of the Democratic Party. This homeopathic inclusion did not modify the nature of the real economic, social and political power in the country, nor did it improve social conditions for the rest of the community.  

Fifty years have passed since the integrationist wing of black leadership became a permanent presence in public state office. Today there are more than 7 thousand black officers elected in the US state. Over the last 25 years, black people arrived at high government positions, starting with the Secretaries of States that served under George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, and followed by two presidential terms of Barack Obama.

How has the situation of the black community been modified in these 50 years in which a minority of public servants emerged from the community have participated in the management of the state? 

Black people have an average wage that is 60% inferior than that of non-Hispanic whites. This is an improvement compared to 1970, when the average was half the income. But the difference stopped shrinking in 2000, when the statistic started going down again. Either way, statistics taken by the census measure only those with a fixed income, excluding unemployed or underemployed. 35% of black youths were unemployed before the pandemic. During June, despite almost one million and a half new requests for unemployment insurance, overall unemployment dropped almost one and a half percent, according to the latest official announcements. In the same period, black unemployment did not recover but kept increasing.   

When we see the difference in the declaration of assets, we get a clearer picture. The average assets of a black person are a tenth of a non-Hispanic white person’s. This relationship has remained fixed since 1990. In 2014, when poverty in the black community had descended to 27% it kept tripling that in white communities[19].

The ghettos, established in northern cities by an informal prohibition of black people establishing in other neighborhoods during massive migrations after World War Two, still exist. Racial segregation indicators improved, but only partially, from 93% in 1970 to 70% in 2010. A very high level considering that 55 years have passed since the end of legal segregation.

Since the year 2000 the indicator of black Americans living in neighborhoods where more than 20% live below poverty level keeps growing. Black children live in those neighborhoods in a proportion of seven to one with white children. Those neighborhoods have less access to health and education, and more harassment from police forces. 

The sanitary impact of that social inequality means that a black adult has twice the chance of dying of a heart attack, or of having diabetes, and 50% more of having blood pressure problems. The larger number of black people without health insurance (12,2% to 7,8%) in a country with no public health service, combined with a great presence in jobs considered essential, gives room to an extreme vulnerability in times of pandemic[20].

Two important indicators have gotten worse since the end of legal segregation. The level of employment among black men in 1972 was 80%, before the pandemic it was 63%. The level or imprisonment of black men has tripled between 1960 and 2010. American jails are probably the most certain point of transmission of Covid-19 on the planet.      

The caste of black public officers of the state has been recruited from sectors of the community that could progress individually, taking advantage of the limited social mobility with professional, business, academic or military promotions which became possible, after the end of legal segregation in the 60s and facilitated by affirmative action legislation. 

In these decades, these public officers have supported the huge growth of the police and prison complex promoted with the excuse of fighting crime and waging the war on drugs. This reinforcement has replaced legal segregation as the form of oppression of the black community and also young people and workers in general. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Law Act of 1994, which fostered a leap in mass imprisonment under Bill Clinton’s administration had then senator Joe Biden among its top promoters. Most of the Black Congressional Caucus voted, in 2014, the extension of the program that provides local police forces with military armament, and more recently, in 2018, the Protect and Serve Act, which reinforced legal immunity of police in violent actions against civilians[21]

An average of one thousand civilians are murdered each year by the police. It is three times more probable that an African-American be killed by the police than a white man, and it is the cause of death of one every thousand members of that community. Police murder is the sixth most common cause of death in young black people. Almost all of those murdered by the police are below the poverty line.

The Yankee police carry out 10 million arrests per year. Its jail population is 25% of the whole world’s jail population. It is, by far, the country with the greatest part of its population imprisoned. The number of prisons have quintuplicated since the 70s, indicating a huge militarization of the society, addressed almost exclusively to the working class. Black people are mostly condemned for common crimes and receive longer sentences, making them a third of the prison population, being 13% of the general population. 

The impunity is also huge. According to mappingpoliceviolence.org data, of 7.663 cases of civilian deaths at the hands of police forces in the United States between 2013-2019, only 95 cases led to trial and 48 cases to a sentence. Police unions operate a network of political and economic influence which has systematically operated to defend these conditions of impunity.

The militants of the black movement who did not integrate to the state are special victims of this prison state. Nineteen Black Panthers, such as the journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, have been serving sentences for four decades for fabricated legal processes. Other prisoners come from similar movements of other communities, such as Leonard Peltier, a political prisoner that belonged to the American Indian Movement and has been in jail since 1976. Currently, the counts of political prisoners in the United States oscillate between 60 and 100, including activists who have been recently detained[22].

Together with Donald Trump’s administration, this leadership of the black community, which has sustained itself by its place in the State and the support of big capital and its parties, is the big loser of the current rebellion. Black communities massively condemned the results of their “progressive reforms” policy.

The emergence of the first Black Lives Matter movement, under Barack Obama’s government, already made clear how his administration left the racist police apparatus intact.

The so-called political moderation of the black community, repeated by all electoral analysts three or four months ago, has now definitively been dismissed. That policy is not that of the black people, it is the policy of the democratic apparatus, connected with the black bourgeoisie, the churches, and their system of universities and schools. This apparatus mobilized decisively to win the democratic candidacy for Joe Biden, an undeniable representative of the capitalist establishment. In particular, it was the support of Jim Clyburn, congressman for South Carolina, member of Black Congressional Caucus and democratic whip was essential. Clyburn is part of the well-oiled machinery of the imperial state, even opposed to free college, saying that privatization allows the black community to develop their own universities, ignoring the high levels of academic desertion for economic reasons that exist within the black community. It is true that Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist and revolutionary pre-candidate, as well as the organizations that support him, have done very little to get black community support. But the rebellion has shown that the submission and adaptation to the status quo that electoral machinery, the media and surveys assigned to “black electorate” has nothing to do with the real mood of working communities of the country, and black ones in particular.

There is a political operation underway to reestablish the containment. The operation to align activism on the streets to Biden’s campaign expects to reestablish bonds with the Democratic Party, in order to nullify any aspects of deep transformation that could emerge from this rebellion. All the leftists in the Sanders camp of the Democratic Party have jumped on Biden’s campaign train, including his intellectual supporters, like Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky. In the last days, the campaign was joined by an important figure for the black community, Angela Davis, former militant of the BPP and the CP, political prisoner in the 60s and an important feminist intellectual. Davis based her position, not on approval of Biden but because we must elect a candidate that is “easy to pressure by the anti-racist movement”. Chomsky said something similar: “the best you can say about Biden is that politically he is an empty shell”. These lopsided compliments show that it is not easy to convince activists to support him. Biden tries to facilitate this operation by talking as little as possible during his campaign, maintaining a low profile while Trump weakens day by day. However, anyone who takes a look at his political track record knows that, far from being an empty shell, he is a representative of big imperialist capital, of its police state, military imperialist interventions, privatizations and capital bailouts. Supporting him with the excuse that he is supposedly easy to pressure, far from conditioning him, strengthens him to defend those interests. Many voices of radicalized black movement are denouncing this attempt, among them is Mumia Abu-Jamal, who send a letter from prison, called “The Perils of Reform”, in which he warns about all parliamentary maneuvers to demobilize and concludes with a phrase of Huey Newton’s “We want freedom not another reform”. 

Black Lives

Among the millions that have taken the streets of the nation in the biggest and most extended movement in the history of the country there are members of many organizations. Most of them don’t belong to any organization at all. But there was a flag that could be seen from end to end, in every single action, on a national and international level, Black Lives Matter. This slogan is also the name of an organization, which emerged from the Ferguson uprising in 2014, which is still relatively small and has presence in 14 cities of the 550 in which there were mobilizations. In 2014 it also formed the Movement for Black Lives (MBL), a coalition of 150 social and political local organizations of black militants that has an expression in the whole country through its different components.

In Black Lives Matter, founded by three black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, two of which identify themselves as LGBTI, there is a strong emphasis in the leadership of the movement being exercised by black LGBTI women. Their speech has a cultural orientation, based on life and personal experiences, as well as the perspective of gender. At the same time, their position is a call to rebuild black liberation movement and intervene politically[1][23]. In MBL there are groups that, like most American activists, organize in groups that form around single issues and relationships of affinity, and have specific purposes and demands, and also organizations with more comprehensive programs and broader scope of political action. There are anti-capitalist perspectives and there are also demands that suggest the importance in putting money in community businesses, such as co-ops or the promotion of black businesses. There is a strong orientation on direct actions, most of them with high media impact and an agile use of social networks.   

In many cases they reclaim the non-violent period of the civil rights movement as a role model. Great part of its speech was orientated for a period in defending the initial slogan of “Black Lives Matter”, not as a disdain to the people that are not included in that demand but as a call to stop a particular oppression, while recognizing it as part of a more general struggle against oppression.  

In the coalition new organizations coexist with veterans of the black liberation movement or their political disciples. Some members are non-governmental organizations, sometimes conditioned by legal limits or their source of financing. They have had meetings to “articulate” with the Democratic Party’s more leftist congresswomen and there is a general idea of preapring an electoral participation, although there is no concrete definition on supporting the democrats. They have put out a broad program of social demands, comparable in some ways to the Black Panther Party platform, even going further on the point of the general abolition of police forces and prisons. In the course of the popular rebellion, the slogan most used by MBL was not “abolition of police” but “defund the police”, a slogan with which the left wing of Democratic Party agrees and which was quickly taken by municipal democratic administrations, such as New York and Los Angeles, to reorganize their budgets and appear to be implementing the movement’s program.      

Different groups of the radicalized black left have connections with the MBL. These groups are gathered around Black Agenda Report and Black Alliance for Peace. They are completely hostile to the integration into the American state and the Democratic Party. They say that the defunding of police is a dead end and proclaim communitarian control as the only solution. They have a point of view of deep opposition to Yankee state as an imperialist oppressor. They all look for the support of different governments that are in dispute with the United States, having expectations on condemnations in international forums, even in the United Nations, from Venezuela, Iran, China and several African nations.

The Black Alliance for Peace defines itself as a workers grassroots organization, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and internationalist. YahNé Ndgo, spokeswoman of Black Alliance for Peace and member of Black Lives Matter in Philadelphia, outlined in channel Press TV, on June 2nd, that the black struggle against oppression means to “exert power and take over our own lives. We are a nation inside a nation. We want our own nation-state and the end of the war that is carried out by the United States against African people inside the country and abroad”. Ajamu Baraka, head of Black Alliance for Peace, was a candidate for vice-president for the Green Party in 2016.

Monifa Bandele, activist of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and member of the political committee of MBL, proclaimed that the dimension and depth of the struggle movement is not spontaneous, but has origins in six years of organizational work. “What we are seeing in June of 2020 is the result of six years of work to put together an infrastructure of black leadership, on a national level, which gives us the opportunity to make our voice heard in the face of an event of national repercussion, such as George Floyd’s murder”[24]. In political terms, she outlined the necessity of influencing the Democratic caucus, supporting candidates who defend the movement’s demands, because “our people are in the Democratic Party” and the creation of an independent organization is a debate left for a future moment.

Although the discourse of BLM doesn’t elaborate on the class character of capitalist oppression, in the course of the 2020 rebellion, the Movement for Black Lives has promoted strikes. On June 19th, an emblematic date as anniversary of the end of slavery, a significant strike of the 29 ports on the west coast, leaded by combative section of ILWU which reclaim itself explicitly classist. The “strike for black lives” of July 20th had a more limited scope because of the conservative and propagandist character that the union bureaucracy of SEIU imprinted on it. But that union bureaucracy’s necessity to call for a strike evidences the importance the movement has taken in workplaces and unions.

Between anti-imperialism and reformist parliamentary lobby, the political future of the coalition of organizations that is in the center of the rebellion is open and will be the subject of political struggles and a process of differentiation that is already underway.   

A compass for the left

The popular rebellion, focused on the demands against racism and repression converges with an increase in strikes and an electoral and organizational development of the left (mostly inside the Democratic Party, but not only; the trotskyist group Socialist Alternative this year won reelection of their councilwoman in Seattle, Kshama Sawant). However, this has not meant a leap into the limelight for the most important American left organization, the Democrats Socialists of America (DSA), instead it seems to have put them in an awkward political position.

The organization, fully focused on the electoral campaign, played no role whatsoever in the rebellion. Its militants though, were present in the protests. This is important, because DSA, a broad organization integrated by many groups, has more than 50 thousand militants. But DSA is lax and decentralized in regards to all activities that are not electoral campaigns. Lax enough so no one could pinpoint responsibility to their candidates for the ongoing struggles, for example. The truth is that this organization has not played an independent political role in the rebellion nor in workers' actions in the context of the pandemic.

Their candidate for President, defeated in the democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders, has placed himself to the right of the movement, not only by opposing the abolition of police, but also demanding a general increase of police officers’ wages[3][25].

In this context, internal debate has reignited in the DSA regarding the lack of a policy to intervene in the movement against racism. The criticisms have been recurrent in recent years, and observers within the organization and outside of it relate this to the huge difficulty it has to grow among racial minorities. The leading group of DSA, gathered around Jacobin magazine and the Bread and Roses caucus, is opposed to adopting the struggle against racial oppression, although for reasons that are formally ultraleft.

In a Jacobin article form 2018 which functions as the official position on this issue, Eric Blanc and Jeffrey Gong say that because the main political problem is the dissolution of the concept of class in American society and because identity politics, focusing on gender, race or other forms of specific oppression, is a weapon used by the ruling class to deny class oppression, the right thing to do is to privilege slogans capable of mobilizing the “whole class”.

Another Jacobin article criticizes the concept of Black Power, arguing that “no matter how militant the rhetoric, it was still based on a liberal belief that economic inequality could be dealt with by segregating the working class into racially distinguished units[26]”.

Facing the position that revolutionaries should fight both against class and racial oppression Jacobin says “‘doing both’ misreads the balance of power in America today: institutionally on the Left, we have nothing but a fraction of the already miniscule labor movement to back our platform and our analysis.”Since liberal progressives are so strong, and therefore “identity” demands are controlled by them, it is better to focus on universal demands, such as the access to health care, the Green New Deal and the minimum wage. All campaigns that the DSA promotes as parliamentarian projects, as platforms to get more candidates elected.

In class struggle it is impossible to opt for which form of oppression to challenge. Or we face them as a whole or we adapt to part of them and, therefore, to the whole regime. They are profoundly linked. And in the agitation concerning any of them we can find the string that starts to unravel and leads to the collapse.

Jacobin’s scribes think that there can be a policy to solve workers' “economic inequality” without rising up against the empire. The idea of gradualist reforms as a path for ending capitalism, is the most liberal and unrealistic that the left could have, no matter how “Marxists” the arguments given pretend to be.

There won’t be a later time, to be chosen conveniently, to go back to the problem of racial oppression. Historical opportunities, social explosions, are unrepeatable, unique events. Revolutionaries must leave all behind to intervene in them.

The “property” of racial demands that they assign to bourgeois currents is denied by the ongoing rebellion. Those who wish that the rebellion could be suspended in order get back to their electoral campaigns are the real liberals, those at Jacobin. To any who may still have doubts, their website announces the preparation of a special printed edition for July centered on “Looking at what the Bernie campaigns accomplished”. It is inconceivable to defend that this is as the center of the political situation in the United States, shaken not only by the rebellion but also by a serious new outbreak of coronavirus and a red hot political crisis, which includes government usage of forms of illegal repression in conjunction with private militias. An undisguisable electoralism.  

Abstentionism facing the demands against racial oppression is not only a DSA characteristic. The ultraleftst Socialist Equality Party, that runs the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), rejects the importance of the movement, which it regards as “protests”. They consider that making an issue of racial oppression is part of the manipulation of identity politics and ae on a campaign to defend hero figures of the independence process, such as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson[5][27], whose statues are being turned over by the protesters. They represent a sectarian ultraleft that thinks that joining in movements for environmental demands, for those of women, of the LGBTI community or against racial oppression representative of the leftist that calls not to intervene in those kind of movements,would be making a concession to the bourgeois or petit bourgeois ideology that has the majority in these movements. On the contrary, by developing a revolutionary program we can fight for the leadership of the masses against these currents. Never from sterile abstentionism. One can’t fault the followers of WSWS for their consistency, though. Their credentials for extreme sectarianism have been well earned, opposing rent strikes[28] and walkouts at Amazon[29], in both cases with the argument of the influence of the left of the Democratic Party in those movements of struggle.

The massive commotion of the United States requires a revolutionary program that can concentrate the huge amounts of energy that have been let loose by the masses in struggle. The point is not to choose between the multiple aspects of the catastrophe generated by capitalism, but to be able to unify those who are suffering it into common conclusions and action.

Black power or black liberation have meant and mean different things to different militants and organizations throughout the years and to this day. Some of them understand it as community self-determination within the context of the defeat of the imperialist state and socialism, others understand it as a separate nation-state and others limit it to the immediate fight for reforms that reduce the oppression suffered. Revolutionaries of all countries have the duty of defending the autonomy and the right of self-determination of the black community and to fight for it in the terms they resolve to do so.

The first point that any revolutionary program should have for the ongoing process in the United States is to generalize popular assemblies, assemblies by neighborhood, workplace and places of study assemblies in order to debate their common conclusions on the struggle and political solutions. A coordination of delegates elected in assemblies would unify the powerful movement of struggle which has been developing in every corner of the country. 

Dismantling of security forces, all of which are responsible for terrible crimes against the people. Community control of security. Immediate freedom to all political prisoners.

Security protocol in working places under workers’ control, guaranteeing that only essential jobs are performed and under secure conditions. Paid sick leave for oneself or relatives.

Prohibition of layoffs and furloughs. Minimum wage equal to the cost of living. Distribution of working hours among all working population without affecting the salary in order to end unemployment. Remove time limits for the payment of unemployment insurance.

The only economic reparations are collective, for victims of slavery and segregation, as well as workers, immigrants and native peoples. It requires the nationalization of banks, whose bailout has been paid repeatedly by the people, in order to finance the formation of public, free and universal health and education systems, under the control of the working people, as well as a housing plan to end with overcrowding in the ghettos. 

Not a single eviction. Moratorium on mortgages and student debts. Rent freeze.

Dismantling of the US military, espionage and diplomatic apparatus, responsible for terrible crimes against humanity. Return the territory of Guantanamo base in Cuba and all foreign bases. Dissolution of the IMF and World Bank and cancellation of all debts taken by these organisms. Immediate end to the blockade on Cuba and Venezuela.

For a workers government.

 

 

 

 

[1] Howard Zinn: “A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES”, HIRU, p. 28.

[2] Zinn, p. 83, quoting the work of historian Charles Beard.

[3] Pablo Heller: “Marx y la guerra de la secesión”, Prensa Obrera N° 1.370, 3/7/2015.

[4] Zinn, p.224

[5]Hernán Díaz: “La independencia de Cuba y el expansionismo norteamericano”, En defensa del Marxismo N° 20, May 1998.

[6] Rafael Bernabe: “Rebelión en las colonias: Puerto Rico  1898”, En Defensa del Marxismo N° 20, May 1998.

[7] Theses on the black question, in the first four Congresses of the International Communist, Pasado y Presente.

[8] Richard Fraser:  Tom Boot, Revolutionary Integration, Red Letter Press, Seattle, 2004.

[9] This and subsequent quotes are from “The Negro Question in America”, in Leon Trotsky on Black Nationalism & Self-Determination, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1967.

[10] “Self-determination of American Negroes”, in Leon Trotsky on Black Nationalism

[11] “La lucha popular en los Estados Unidos en los años sesenta y la Ofensiva del Tet” in 1968, un año revolucionario, Pablo Rieznik, et al, EFFL, Buenos Aires, 2015.

[12] The quotes and positions expressed were taken from Malcolm X: as they knew him, compiled by David Gallen, Ballantine Books, New York, 1992.

[14] “La lucha popular…”

[15] “La lucha popular…”

[16] Joshua Bloom, Waldo E. Martin: Black against empire, University of California Press, 2013, p. 2.

[17] Both quotes in Mumia Abu-Jamal, We want freedom: a life in the Black Panther Party, South End Press, Cambridge, 2004.

[18] Referencing the guerrilla force  that fought for independence in Kenya.

[19]  “Measuring deprivation”, The Economist, 3/6/2020.

[20] “Measuring racial progress”, The Economist, 4/6/2020.

[23]  A selection of representative interviews with members of Black Lives Matter and MBL of 2014 in New Black activism, compiled by Ezequiel Gatto, Tinta Limón, Buenos Aires, 2016.

[26] “The Identity Mistake” Melissa Naschek, 28/8/2018

[27] “Democrat’s denunciation of America’s revolutionary heritage provides an opening for Trump”, WSWS, 7/7/2020.

[28] “Millions of Americans cannot pay their rent”, WSWS, 4/5/2020.

[29] “May 1 general strike at Amazon”, WSWS, 2/5/2020.

Sobre el Autor

Guillermo Kane

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