From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters
II. Black history, Black liberation and suppression
“Don’t Say Gay” laws and rampant book bans are part of a drive for totalitarian thought control, another aspect of which is erasing Black—and women’s—history. On May 9, the Florida Department of Education bragged that it had censored dozens of textbooks, requiring publishers to remove mentions of things like Black Lives Matter, the police killing of George Floyd, and even that some people kneel during the national anthem. Justification: the books should “focus on historical facts”—as if these were not all facts, and salient ones speaking loudly about the reality we live in!
The actual historical facts of right here and now include the continuing toll of murders by the police, which fall most heavily on Black Americans. (See “Police murder of Tyre Nichols puts U.S. civilization on trial yet again,” March-April N&L.) Recent demonstrations include protests against the police killing of Reginald Clay Jr. in April when he was shot in the back while running away on the West Side of Chicago, and the death of Irvo Otieno in March in Henrico County, Virginia, after being tortured while shackled in custody. In Akron, Ohio, protests over the police murder of Jayland Walker in June 2022 continue strong, despite harsh police repression.
NEVER NOT A MASS KILLING
It is true that the police are not the only ones killing people, as seen in the astonishing and horrendous series of mass shootings in the U.S. averaging ten a week in 2023. That is dwarfed by the 40,000 gun deaths a year, half of them suicides. But this can only be properly understood if police violence and the other kinds of daily violence are recognized as two sides of the same coin. They are two complementary expressions of the ingrained violence of the social system we have the misfortune to live under.
The incredible series of shootings of young people who knocked on the wrong door, misrecognized a car, pulled into a driveway, and even children who played in a neighbor’s yard followed each other so closely that they started seeming normal! A trend that is tragically not new but is sure to grow is men killing women over abortions: Gabriella Gonzalez was shot in the head in a parking lot in Texas by Harold Thompson because she went to Colorado to get an abortion.
The license to kill is especially associated with white men who see Black people—and white Black Lives Matter protesters—as a threat:
Daniel Penny choked Jordan Neely, a homeless Black street performer, to death on the New York subway but police waited a week before arresting him.
Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, a Walgreens security guard, shot and killed Banko Brown, a homeless Black Trans activist, in San Francisco, and the DA dismissed all charges.
Ralph Yarl, 16, was shot in the brain, though not killed, when he rang Andrew Lester’s doorbell. (See Readers’ Views, p. 6.)
TRYING TO SUPPRESS BLACK LIBERATION
Before and after Daniel Perry (not to be confused with Daniel Penny) was sentenced to 25 years in prison for murdering Garrett Foster, a white participant in a Black Lives Matter protest in Austin, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott agitated to pardon him—bringing to mind the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two white Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisc., and has since become a hero to Republicans.
Clearly there is a determination to suppress Black liberation in life as well as in ideas. The reactionaries tell the big lie that they are fighting indoctrination, when their aim is to indoctrinate.
Their special hatred of Black Studies is because the Black dimension is linked with all freedom movements in U.S. history. In fact, Black America is central to U.S. and world history. It is liberation and liberatory movements that they wish to eliminate from history every bit as much as they wish to eliminate Black people and Black thought. We cannot forget that the only reason we have Black studies, women’s studies, and Latin American studies is that the movement forced academia to begin acknowledging true history.
The very point of this state-imposed indoctrination is to ban the teaching of truth in history, to erase freedom struggles as well as the reality of racism and sexism, to erase the humanity of LGBTQ+ people. They are deliberately imposing a false, white supremacist, patriarchal rewriting of history that is fully compatible with the fascist “Great Replacement” myth that says Jews or other hidden forces are trying to replace white Christians with other kinds of people.
THE OPPOSITE OF EMERGING FASCISM
The opposite to that—and therefore the opposite to all the expressions of fascism, of counter-revolutionary anti-freedom, including police violence, attacks on LGBTQ+ people, and the bans on abortion which are attacks against women’s freedom and against the movements of women for liberation—the opposite is not only the restoration of true history but the actual freedom movements in unity with their universalization in thought, the philosophy of revolution in permanence.
That philosophy’s development as Marxist-Humanism grew out of a tendency in the revolutionary movement that had singled out the significance of independent movements of Black masses since the 1940s. Black masses as Reason has been a central Marxist-Humanist category since the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which Raya Dunayevskaya put on the level of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Paris Commune, declaring that the greatest thing about the boycott was “its own working existence.”
That was further developed in the pamphlet whose 60th anniversary we celebrate this year: American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard. As Dunayevskaya wrote at the time, “The methodology which made this possible is the dialectic in the present in which is inherent ‘the pull of the future.’” Like then, today’s movement is constantly mobbed by those who want to co-opt it, diverting from projecting the needed total reconstruction of society. The theory and Reason emanating from the movement from practice is at first implicit and needs to be made explicit in order to overcome the ideological pull of capitalist society, which keeps projecting in theory and practice that there is no alternative.
Like then, “the play of power politics of capitalist states” threatens to disorient or derail freedom movements. That is certainly at work in Russia’s war against Ukraine. But here again, as the essay “Ukrainian Self-Determination and the Idea of Freedom” in the Jan.-Feb. 2023 issue of N&L shows, so is the movement for self-determination against imperialist invasion, which in itself reaches for the Idea of freedom. The power of that idea, as philosophy of revolution, pervades the pull of the future that is inherent in the present and demands to be made explicit as a revolutionary force and subject. That is not automatic.
. The leading cause of death of pregnant women in the U.S. is murder, mainly from intimate partner violence. “The recent dismantling of women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. brings further urgency to these issues….For instance, reproductive coercion, a common aspect of intimate partner violence, increases the risk of unintended pregnancy, while restricting access to abortion endangers women as unwanted pregnancies potentially amplify risks in abusive relationships,” wrote BMJ (British Medical Journal) in a press release.
. See “The vanguard role of Black masses in American freedom movements” and “The Todayness of a Marxist-Humanist Classic” in the March-April 2023 N&L.
American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard by Raya Dunayevskaya
Appendix contains four writings by Charles Denby, including “Black Caucuses in the Unions”: “One stage in the Black workers’ revolt arose because workers began to realize that we would have to fight the union bureaucracy as much as we had fought the management up to then…”
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