In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide…To use a philosophical analogy here, racism is not based on some empirical generalization; it is based rather on an ontological affirmation. It is not the assertion that certain people are behind culturally or otherwise because of environmental conditions. It is the affirmation that the very being of a people is inferior…I submit that however unpleasant it is we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Protests erupted in cities across the U.S. and around the world following the Nov. 25 decision of a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the cold-blooded murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9. Thousands marched under the slogan “Black Lives Matter!”
These mass demonstrations continued, and grew, in the wake of the equally outrageous Dec. 3 decision of a Staten Island, New York City, grand jury not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner—choked to death for the “crime” of selling loose cigarettes. This despite Garner’s murder being captured on video, the NYPD policy prohibiting choke holds, and the coroner’s ruling of death by homicide. The slogans “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” and “We Can’t Breathe!” throw the crimes of the police and the racist system right back in their faces, thousands of times over—even the well-paid warriors of the St. Louis Rams joined in protest.
Both these jury decisions were steeped in the current state of U.S. racism. In both cases, the fix was in—“prosecutors” had no intention of holding murderous cops responsible. This is standard practice following four decades of cancerous growth of the prison industrial complex, U.S. capitalism’s response to its structural crisis, which has targeted Blacks, Latinos, and the poor. The warehousing of millions, their disenfranchisement as citizens, and the denial of their basic humanity, has created a social order in which Black youth are made to live continuously suspended over an abyss of non-existence.
In Ferguson, Darren Wilson’s dehumanizing testimony, which called on racist images of the Black man as a “demon,” a dangerous animal incapable of feeling pain, convicted him of the intent to murder Michael Brown. But prosecutors did everything in their power to support his racist narrative and impugn the many witnesses against him. Wilson did the killing, but the State effectively acted as a lynch mob in his defense.
This is the sick social context in which sociopaths like Wilson, Pantaleo, and wanna-be cop George Zimmerman are given license to kill.
A NEW MOMENT OF REBELLION
In contrast, the tens of thousands who have shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, and West Side Highway in New York City; Lake Shore Drive in Chicago; and Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Los Angeles, among other main arteries, represent a new moment in which a young generation is connecting to high points of past struggle (the Civil Rights Movement, the L.A. Rebellion of 1992) and aiming to go further. Led by Black youth including Black women, the protests have attracted white, Latino and Asian allies—and again, largely youth.
The mass national protests overlapped with Black Friday labor protests (with Wal-Mart a special target) and calls for boycotts helped to lower sales by as much as 8% from last year.
Recently formed groups like We Charge Genocide make the same connection between the murders of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Dante Parker, Ezell Ford, VonDerrit Myers Jr., Laquan McDonald, Cameron Tillman, Tamir Rice, and so many, many others made by the larger Black community.
This new generation fully comprehended the reality of the racist prison system, and of a generation of opposition to it. They see its roots deep in the development of U.S. and world capitalism, in the genocidal conquest of the Americas and the ensuing enslavement of Africans. They are very close to Marx’s development of the absolute contradictions of capitalism, close enough to give every promise of the further development of revolutionary theory and practice.
‘IT SURE FEELS LIKE A WAR’
This current state-supported racism isn’t just a reversion to the oppressive past. It is one section of the ruling class sending the message that it is fully in tune with the virulent neo-fascist movement that has arisen and consolidated itself over the last decades, and in particular since the economic crisis of 2008 was accompanied by the election of President Barack Obama.
Since then the racist Right has engaged in a non-stop effort to crush whatever ideas of freedom and self-determination allowed Obama to enter the White House—ideas, ironically, that Obama has largely ignored or repudiated. It has brought big corporate money together with formerly fringe elements, from the Klan to the John Birch Society, in the Tea Party and other falsely claimed “grassroots” organizations. It has brought neo-Confederate and white nationalist figures from internet obscurity to FOXNews prominence.
While some have tried to counterpose the issues of race and class, in fact this is how the class issue has been expressed. The Right’s relentless attacks on President Obama haven’t been directed against the failings and limitations of bourgeois democracy, nor only at Obama’s person, but rather at the drive toward revolutionary democracy that inheres in the historic Black freedom struggle.
Further, by way of the U.S.’s imperialist wars, we have witnessed the militarization of domestic policing that has been so much a part of the State’s response to justified community protests in Ferguson. As Amnesty International observed, the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression were seriously imperiled in Ferguson. A Marxist-Humanist activist there said, “It may not be a revolution yet, but this sure feels like a war.”
Black and poor communities have long understood the role of the police as an occupying army. Ferguson is a perfect example. It is a community that has long been exploited and cheated as St. Louis County squeezed the people with traffic fines and petty arrests for the profit of the white power structure. When protests over Michael Brown’s murder began, they were immediately met with a bullying disrespect, with riot police in military gear, tear gas and rubber bullets, sonic cannons. It escalated from there.
This “white nationalism” wielding state power is as vile as Milosevic’s Serb state, or Assad’s genocidal state, and potentially capable of greater crimes. It carries the seed of future imperialist world wars within itself. The police revealed its true face in Ferguson—an army, always dedicated to the preservation of capitalist “order,” and with plenty kept in reserve to protect a looming U.S. fascism.
REVOLUTIONARY HUMANISM IN ACTION
One of the most lasting achievements of the Civil Rights Movement was the way it unlocked the truth of U.S. history, bringing the continuous story of Black freedom struggles out of the long-suppressed archives. While blank-eyed sociopaths like Wilson, Pantaleo, and George Zimmerman are the template for the white supremacist mind, the absolute opposite can be found in the rich, revolutionary humanism developed through four centuries of freedom struggles, from Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth and John Brown to Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, Malcolm X and the National Welfare Rights Organization, to the Pelican Bay hunger strikers.
A new generation of revolutionaries is now entering the scene, on the streets and fighting hard for a different, more human world. As force and as passion, these youth and their allies mean to tear this racist society up by its roots. They aren’t inclined to compromise, they will not be intimidated by anyone, and they are aware of the high stakes involved in their struggle.
We in News and Letters Committees recognize the historic moment and encourage the fullest political and philosophic dialogue within the movement.
As Raya Dunayevskaya wrote in American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard (1983), the absolute challenge to our age is the concretization of Marx’s concept of “revolution in permanence.” The Black dimension is crucial to the total uprooting of existing, exploitative, racist, sexist society and the creation of new, truly human foundations.
For the Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
December 5, 2014