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Workers Vanguard No. 1064

20 March 2015

Ferguson, Madison, Nationwide

Capitalist Rule Means Racist Cop Terror

In front of a crowd commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, President Barack Obama offered a rehash of the bald-faced lie that racism is no longer “endemic” to America. This tune is to be expected from the black overseer of a system that criminalizes young black men as part of maintaining the racial oppression that is woven into the fabric of American capitalist society.

Obama declared that “what happened in Ferguson” is “no longer sanctioned by law or custom,” as it was before the 1950s-’60s civil rights movement. In fact, under its liberal leadership, that struggle, while leading to the dismantling of legal segregation in the South, could not challenge the systemic police violence, poverty and misery that define life for the black masses. Within days of Obama’s speech, killer cops had taken the lives of more unarmed black men, including Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old recent high school graduate in Madison, Wisconsin, who viewed himself as biracial, and Anthony Hill, a mentally ill Air Force veteran gunned down outside Atlanta, Georgia.

Each new killing by the police, as usual, comes with an official stamp of approval. The city of Cleveland pointed the finger at 12-year-old Tamir Rice for failing to “avoid” being blown away, while a Justice Department investigation gave a free pass to Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson. Such is par for the course in, to use Obama’s phrase, “fair America,” where a filthy rich elite lord it over working people, the black masses and the rest of the downtrodden. Indeed, terrorizing the poor and oppressed, as well as violently suppressing workers struggle and social protest, is what the capitalist rulers pay the cops to do. The thugs in blue have not resorted to planting “throwaway guns” on these victims; the law sanctions deadly force by police against any threat they perceive—and in this racist society black youth are widely perceived, especially by the cops, as lawbreakers. Harassment, or worse, for driving/walking/breathing while black is a daily reality.

Ferguson’s black residents and anti-police brutality activists were back in the crosshairs after two cops standing guard were shot and wounded during a protest outside police headquarters the night of March 11. City authorities and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blamed protesters for the “ambush,” paving the way for heightened repression as county and state police again descended on the small community. After a huge manhunt, a 20-year-old black man was arrested. Whatever happened the night of the protest, the ongoing violence-baiting of protesters is a clear message: they deserve whatever they get from the marauding cops.

Some observers have found solace in the Feds’ second Ferguson report, which knocked the aggressive ticketing and other “unconstitutional” practices of its police as well as their pervasive harassment of black people. In an online Atlantic article (5 March), black journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates lauds the “due process” extended to Wilson while remarking: “The lack of faith among black people in Ferguson’s governance, or in America’s governance, is not something that should be bragged about. One cannot feel good about living under gangsters, and that is the reality of Ferguson right now.”

Since the report was released, several local officials, including the widely reviled police chief, have submitted their resignations. We say good riddance. But changing who fills these positions does nothing to address the material reality of racist oppression in this country or the cop terror that is one of its starkest expressions. The aim of the federal investigation, as always in such cases, was never to rein in the police, but to neutralize fury over their crimes, thwart unrest and paint a gloss on the “justice” system. In fact, Ferguson is hardly the worst case, as even the liberal bourgeoisie’s main mouthpiece, the New York Times, felt compelled to document in the article “Ferguson Became a Symbol, but Bias Knows No Border” (7 March).

As many of those around the Black Lives Matter movement proclaim, state violence is endemic to a society that has written off the lives of black ghetto youth, who are deemed unworthy of education and cast aside into the ranks of the jobless and/or locked up. But in faulting a “broken system,” these activists are criticizing social and legal institutions, not the economic foundations on which those institutions stand. The entrenched oppression of black people in this country, a legacy of chattel slavery, is rooted in the capitalist profit system. Under capitalism, a handful of exploiters who own industry, the banks and large farms—that is, the capitalist class—amass huge wealth off the labor of the working class. The police, as the frontline defense of that system, are at the core of the repressive capitalist state machinery, along with the courts and prisons. This system cannot be fixed by tweaking laws or cleaning out corruption, which is the content of the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black people are an integral part of American class society while at the same time forcibly segregated at its bottom as a race-color caste. Bearing the brunt of cutbacks and job losses, they are the last hired (if at all) and first fired. Even so, black workers continue to form a strategic core of the multiracial working class—the only force, based on its role in production, with the social power and historic interest to sweep away the capitalist system, paving the way for black liberation in an egalitarian socialist society.

The Illusion of Police Accountability

On March 11, over a thousand people marched in Madison to demand justice for Tony Robinson, who was shot in the head by a cop in his own apartment in this mostly white college town. One of the protest organizers was the Young Gifted and Black Coalition (YGBC), which formed after the killing of Michael Brown. In January correspondence with the Madison police chief, the YGBC sought “open and honest dialogue” with the city’s top cop, offering specific recommendations for reforming local law enforcement and the county jail. Politically linking arms with the YGBC, the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) posted this correspondence approvingly on its website with the headline: “Time to Hold the Police Accountable” (, 22 January).

The YGBC imbibes in the widespread illusion, peddled by the ISO, that the police can be made answerable to the public. The letter calls on the Madison Police Department to “address racial disparities,” which is like imploring a viper to ease up on its bite. In fact, the capitalist state apparatus can never be made to “protect and serve” the interests of workers and minorities.

The cops are not “accountable” to anyone other than to the capitalist masters they serve. Madison is proof positive. A petri dish for police reform schemes, the city is known as a liberal haven in a state with a long history of supposedly progressive police chiefs. Still, as the YGBC itself attests, black people are arrested and incarcerated there at much higher rates than whites. Matters will not change with more diversity training and more black cops, who are no less devoted to the job than their white counterparts. A black officer was involved in killing Charly Leundeu Keunang in Los Angeles earlier this month (see article on page 1).

The YGBC also embraces “the values of community control and self-determination.” The black nationalists who raised “community control” in the late 1960s were drawn from a layer of the black petty bourgeoisie seeking its own piece of the pie by making a virtue of the ingrained segregation that was seen as unchangeable. They also often opposed organized labor. The actual content of the “community control” slogan was an appeal for more black Democratic Party politicians, cops, judges and administrators. Since then, black mayors have been installed in one major city after another to help contain the discontent of the black masses while presiding over cop terror and pushing through attacks on labor and social programs.

Cops Are Not Workers

Drawing a link between the interests of the besieged black masses and those of the working class does not take a Marxist analysis. In an article titled “Black Lives Matter to Labor” (27 February), Terry Melvin, secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO and president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, observes how “the fate of Black workers is the fate of American workers,” with black workers playing a central role in the unions. So why hasn’t anti-black repression been met with massive, militant protest by organized labor, with its ability to bring production to a halt and stop the flow of profits?

Melvin’s conclusion that black lives matter “because the American Dream matters” is indicative. This patriotic myth holds that working people can “make it” if they work hard to help maximize the bosses’ profits. The union bureaucracy, of which Melvin is a part, has long shackled the workers to their class enemies, largely through support to the capitalist Democratic Party, falsely portrayed as a friend of labor and black people. The “American Dream” is in fact a nightmare for the untold millions who daily scramble to get by.

Emblematic of the labor tops’ allegiance to the capitalist system is their opening of the unions’ doors to the police and security guards. Of the 16 million people covered by a union contract today, around 7 percent are in so-called “protective service occupations.” This embrace of the racist killer cops and strikebreakers as class brothers and sisters is just one more noose around the neck of organized labor, further sapping the fighting strength of the unions. Cops, prison guards and security guards have no place in the union movement.

Separate associations representing cops and prison guards, referred to by the misnomer “unions,” have grown in recent years, right along with mass incarceration. Above and beyond defending the capitalists’ hired guns, the role of these organizations is to advance an agenda of more weapons, manpower and leeway for cop savagery. Witness the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in New York City, which seized on the killing of two Brooklyn cops last year to spin a tale of a “war on police” in order to better squelch protest. In Albuquerque, New Mexico—with one of the country’s highest rates of fatal shootings by cops, eight times that of the NYPD—the police fraternity routinely has rewarded trigger-happy cops with $500 to help them “decompress” after they shoot someone.

Pseudo-Marxist groups like Socialist Alternative (SAlt) regurgitate the union bureaucracy’s filth that cops are “fellow workers.” Such a view makes a mockery of the entire history of workers struggle. When miners used to sing the old labor anthem “Which Side Are You On?” they were not addressing the strikebreaking cops or Pinkertons.

In documents posted on SAlt’s website under the title “Marxism and the State: An Exchange” from a 2006 debate within their British affiliate, the Socialist Party, these reformists’ longstanding position that cops are “workers in uniform” is given a theoretical wrapping. The reader is told that “a revolutionary policy” involves supporting the police ranks’ “democratic rights, including the right to organise in a trade union.” SAlt goes on to say that unionizing the cops will create “more favourable conditions of struggle for the working class” by bringing them closer to the workers movement (yes, close enough to land a baton). The mere fact that these thugs are paid for their dirty work does not make them workers. If reformists like SAlt truly had the courage of their convictions, they should split off from the protests, go inside police stations—say in Ferguson, for example—and appeal for solidarity from these agents of state repression. Then see what happens.

For a Proletarian Orientation

Notably, in Madison the March 11 march and rally sparked by Tony Robinson’s killing was appended to a protest in opposition to an anti-union “right to work” bill signed two days earlier by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Some protesters also expressed sympathy with fast-food workers engaged in the “Fight for $15” campaign to raise the minimum wage and win union recognition, including by marching to a Burger King and a Papa John’s after rallying at the Department of Corrections.

The cause of these heavily black, immigrant and female workers has become a focal point for the struggle against poverty wages and tenuous employment, with the campaign attracting fast-food workers who want to make a fight of it. But labor officials like those of the SEIU service workers union use the “15” rhetoric to pressure the Democratic Party into supporting minimum wage increases as a substitute for waging a class-struggle fight to obtain increased pay from the bosses. Ditto the reformists of SAlt, who in tailing behind the union bureaucracy have focused their efforts on legislative wheeling and dealing and petitioning to raise the minimum wage.

As we wrote in “Fight Poverty Wages Through Class Struggle!” (WV No. 1052, 19 September 2014), “The organization of the atomized fast-food workforce poses the need to mobilize the power of unionized workers along the supply lines of the fast-food chains, where once-strong union concentrations, such as in trucking and meatpacking, have been eroded by the craven policies of the union bureaucrats. A hard struggle to organize fast-food workers would rapidly fuel a resurgence of union strength in those industries.”

The millennials of today’s Black Lives Matter protests have not witnessed much by way of strike action. Many activists wrongly associate the working class as a whole with the sellout leaders atop the unions. What is necessary to transform the unions into battalions of class struggle and champions of the oppressed is a new labor leadership willing to fight it out class against class.

There is plenty of raw anger among working people over smaller paychecks, among black youth over cop terror, among immigrants over mass deportations. That anger must be turned into class struggle against the common enemy, the capitalist ruling class, which thrives on promoting racial antagonisms in order to keep working people divided. Such struggle could provide a springboard for working-class consciousness and organization. Crucially, the political ties of the unions and the black masses to the Democratic Party must be severed. And that requires revolutionary leadership. To militant activists unwilling to be led down the path of the same dead-end liberal politics that have buried black struggle for decades, we offer the perspective of building a multiracial workers party in which black workers will be in the front ranks. Such a party would be dedicated to putting an end to the brutal capitalist order once and for all and establishing a socialist America.


Workers Vanguard No. 1064

WV 1064

20 March 2015


Ferguson, Madison, Nationwide

Capitalist Rule Means Racist Cop Terror


Life and Death on Skid Row

LAPD Guns Down Homeless Man


South Africa: New Wave of Anti-Immigrant Attacks

For Class-Struggle Defense of Immigrants!


Sacramento, California

Cops Charge Black Activist with “Lynching”

Defend Maile Hampton!


Reforge the Fourth International

(Quote of the Week)


Correction on Cromwell and Calvinism


Lear Auto Contract Sellout

UAW Tops Tout Two-Tier Bait and Switch

Equal Pay for Equal Work! Organize the Unorganized!





Down With War on Refugees!

Full Citizenship Rights Now!


Stevan Kirschbaum Acquitted

Reinstate Boston School Bus Union Leaders Now!


Police Terror and Black Oppression

Lessons of the Civil Rights Movement

For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

(Part Two)