Workers Vanguard No. 855

30 September 2005

Black Liberation and the Fight for a Workers America

We print below a September 15 speech, edited for publication, by Don Alexander of the New York Labor Black League for Social Defense and the Spartacist League Central Committee. Comrade Alexander’s presentation was part of a united-front rally in New York City initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee under the slogans, “The ‘War on Terror’ Targets Blacks, Immigrants, Labor and Leftists! Fight Government Repression!” More coverage of the rally inside.

I appreciated some of the speakers emphasizing the fact that all the victims of this racist, capitalist frame-up system have to be defended. We are here to rally and to demand: Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal! Hands off Lynne Stewart! Hands off Mohamed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar! Hands off Assata Shakur! The same ruling class whose capitalist system framed up and imprisoned Mumia and countless other fighters is responsible for the racist atrocity in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina.

Over the years, I’ve helped to fight numerous racist and anti-labor frame-ups—Angela Davis, Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), Mumia—and have participated in building the labor/black mobilizations against the Klan and Nazis that were initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee, the Spartacist League and also the Labor Black Leagues. About the remark that was made here that we’re living under fascism—far from it. This is a very right-wing capitalist government, which has carried out a qualitative diminution of our rights. But the working class has not been defeated in struggle.

In 1995, I went to South Africa for the first time. I met many leftists, trade unionists and women’s organizations and won support for Mumia. It was crucial that we got the support of COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions), whose millions-strong organizations came out to save the life of Mumia and for the abolition of the racist death penalty. While we were there, Pennsylvania Democratic governor Tom Ridge signed a death warrant for Mumia. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the power of mobilizing international protest, centered on unions representing millions of workers around the world, to beat the rulers back! And that’s the power we urgently need to mobilize today to stop them from persecuting and crushing our fighters, like Lynne Stewart, Mumia and Assata.

The Labor Black League, which is fraternally allied with the Spartacist League, has assisted in distributing the very fine statement issued by the Spartacist League in the wake of the New Orleans disaster (see WV No. 854, 16 September). On the LBL membership card is a statement made by Karl Marx almost 150 years ago: “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” The LBL is an activist organization, based upon a class-struggle program that encapsulates the perspective of the Leninist tribune of the people: mobilizing the social power of labor on behalf of all of the oppressed, challenging American capitalism’s bedrock of anti-black racism. Our work is to further the common struggle to build a revolutionary workers party that will fight for a workers government.

Hurricane Katrina has ripped away the tattered facade of the U.S. government as “of the people, by the people, for the people,” exposing the racism, venality and ineptitude of the White House gang. It also demonstrated the utter irrationality and anarchy of the profit-driven capitalist system. And what we saw on the streets of New Orleans in the past two weeks was the core of the racist capitalist state: bodies of armed men defending private property. The Democratic governor of Louisiana authorized troops to “shoot and kill” as National Guardsmen, cops and private gunmen tried to reassert capitalist “law and order.” Their cops acted like they were facing an incipient slave insurrection, and at every opportunity they pointed guns at people trying to escape.

For those who say, “But this is America; how can this be happening?” we say: Yeah, this is America, the so-called land of the free but in reality a brutal, racist capitalist system, in which a handful of exploiters own the means of production, that is preparing even worse atrocities. Our program is for socialist revolution, for expropriation of the capitalists without compensation, for a planned economy under workers rule. Such a socialist society would be a system of production for human needs and not profits.

This racist atrocity of leaving black people, poor people to die has created a major political crisis for the Bush administration. It intersects growing opposition to the bloody U.S. occupation of Iraq, which is supported by the majority of Democratic politicians. The revulsion over the New Orleans racist atrocity undercuts “national unity” patriotism, which has been whipped up under the guise of the “war on terror” following the criminal attack on the World Trade Center. The “war on terror” is a war on labor, blacks, immigrants and leftists. There can be no unity between the capitalists and exploited workers because their interests are irreconcilably counterposed.

Iraq is unraveling, as the U.S. imperialists kill thousands and now desperately scramble to create a woman-hating Islamic regime. We demand: U.S. troops out now! Down with the imperialist occupation! Insofar as the forces on the ground in Iraq aim their blows against the occupiers, we call for their military defense against U.S. imperialism. But we give no political support to the insurgents and vehemently oppose the inter-communal violence and religious fundamentalism. It is necessary for class-conscious workers to wage class war at home against the racist capitalist rulers, to fight for workers revolution to defeat bloody U.S. imperialism.

Finish the Civil War!

Bush has been pretty blatant with his racist contempt for black people. He refused to even visit the shelters where they were suffering and dying, holed up in glorified slave pens. His Secretary of State, his secretary of imperialist slaughter, Condoleezza Rice, denied that racism was a factor in the government’s response. Kanye West spoke the truth. But it’s not only Bush who doesn’t care about black people. Neither did Clinton nor the rest of the bloodsuckers before him who ran this system. The capitalist oppressors are modern-day slaveholders who regard black people as expendable.

What happened in New Orleans was no “aberration” but grows out of the entire history of American capitalism, which was built upon black chattel slavery and many of whose “democratic” founding fathers were slaveholders. It took a civil war to end slavery and destroy the economic and social power of the Southern slaveholders. The Civil War was the last progressive war of the American capitalist class. But the political counterrevolution that destroyed Reconstruction left the black masses in a position of semi-slavery and cemented ties between the Northern industrialists and the defeated slaveholders in order to extend capitalism on a nationwide scale. Bourgeois domination was secured through bloody Klan terror and the brutal subjugation of the black masses. We say: Finish the Civil War! Fight for a workers America!

American capitalism is a racist nightmare for the majority of black people. Our program is revolutionary integrationism. It is premised upon mobilizing the working class to take up the fight for black freedom—a class-struggle fight to uproot the source of black oppression, which is capitalism. We fight against every manifestation of racial oppression: for an end to segregation in schools (championing busing against the white racist demagogues), against segregation in housing, jobs and education. This program is counterposed to both liberal integrationism and separatism, both of which accept the permanent existence of racial divisions and of capitalism. Many misleaders push reactionary schemes such as “black capitalism” in order to exploit the ghetto poor. The role of the petty-bourgeois black leadership is to console the masses with the empty promises and lies of the capitalists, and to keep the black masses in check.

Contrary to the utopian perspective of black nationalism, which is a pseudo-nationalism, blacks are not a “nation” with an independent political economy. The special oppression of black people as an oppressed race-color caste—stigmatized by skin color—is deeply rooted in the structure of U.S. capitalism. The material basis of this oppression is the capitalist system of production for profit, now consigning an entire generation of black youth to permanent unemployment, jail and the imperialist military. The last hired, the first fired, the first jailed—the black masses will finally achieve liberation through proletarian revolution, the smashing of racist capitalist rule.

Black people are not simply victims. Although a lot of industrial jobs have been lost over the years, black workers are a leading component of the working class and, armed with a class-struggle program, can open up the road to struggle against this system. But what kind of program and leadership will be in place is decisive. Program is key.

In response to New Orleans, all over the country there is a lot of sentiment among working people to rally on behalf of the thousands of terribly suffering, displaced people and to help in the rescue and massive rebuilding efforts. There are powerful unions with large black and immigrant memberships such as the TWU transit workers and ILA and ILWU longshore unions, representing thousands of workers with tremendous social power that could be wielded on behalf of the oppressed. In the face of this crisis that has uprooted thousands, a class-struggle labor movement would hurl aside and defy the social parasites who are using this massive breakdown and immiseration to fatten the coffers of Halliburton, Bechtel and the like. It would organize black and white, Hispanic and immigrant workers to organize unions, to fight for union jobs, public works at union wages with health care, emergency clothing and safety equipment. Such a fight would also strike a blow against the bosses’ and the capitalist government’s attempts to pay below prevailing wages on federally funded construction projects. And since the capitalists will undoubtedly resist these most modest demands, we say: Let’s organize to get rid of their system!

There has to be a political struggle to mobilize that power to fight for the jobs, housing and education that we desperately need, not only in New Orleans but throughout the country. If you look at Detroit today, for instance, sections of the city have been hard hit by layoffs and cutbacks by a series of Democratic Party administrations. I was recently there, talking to some workers in AMFA [Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association] who are on strike against Northwest Airlines. And one of the stories that was in the papers the days I was there was about a funeral home that had been shut down for over one year. Someone discovered that there were two black male bodies still remaining in the coffins. This is a surplus population in the eyes of the racist rulers. We have to weld the power of the multiracial labor movement to the anger and desperation of the ghettos and the barrios, which requires forging a class-struggle leadership.

Neither the AFL-CIO tops nor the Andy Stern wing of the labor movement are rallying on behalf of displaced workers. None of them. They’re not fighting against the racist union-busters who are trying to smash the AMFA mechanics and cleaners on strike at Northwest Airlines. The South today is still largely unorganized because the misleaders of labor have a program of class collaboration, which means that they are loyal to the “sacred” private property system. Their refusal to fight for black rights is the single most important factor in crippling class struggle against the racist rulers. A class-struggle leadership will be forged by waging a political struggle to replace the trade-union bureaucracy. Such a leadership will champion the interests of the oppressed: for abortion and gay rights, for full citizenship rights for immigrants, for an end to the bloody occupation of Iraq, for a revolutionary workers party that would fight for a workers government.

We need a Bolshevik party, a Leninist vanguard party that’s a tribune of the people—like the one built in tsarist Russia under the leadership of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky that led the working class to a socialist revolution in October 1917. It was the only successful workers revolution in history.

The Capitalists Are Not Fit to Rule

There are natural disasters. But thousands of people have had their lives shattered through this racist atrocity that was facilitated by capitalist madmen who, under both Clinton and Bush, cut the funds needed to protect New Orleans. They knew that the disaster was upon us. The poor people who couldn’t get out were mainly black, though to be sure there were poor whites and a lot of immigrants left to die also. The capitalists are not fit to rule. The workers have to fight to run this world.

The profit and rent hogs, the Wall Street money sharks and their political allies—both Democrats and Republicans—are the ones looting and lining up at the trough, feeding off the corpses while ranting about black “criminals” running wild in New Orleans. You’ve got corporation heads in this country making several hundred times more than an average worker makes. Their real intent was made clear by a sign that was put up by the cops at a temporary jail in a Greyhound Bus station that said, “We Are Taking New Orleans Back.”

To increase the rate of exploitation, the capitalist rulers target for destruction workers and the oppressed at home and abroad. Their gratuitous racist cruelty in the U.S. is matched abroad by similar barbarism toward dark-skinned people. Never forget that it was the Democrat Clinton whose administration implemented United Nations sanctions that killed about a million and a half Iraqis, many of them children who died from malnutrition and starvation. Or, if you’re simply in the way, they bomb you virtually into oblivion, as the Serbian population found out in 1999. Clinton is known in the eyes of some benighted people as “America’s first black president.” Now he has the nerve to put his arms around black children after having driven black and poor women into miserable, low-wage jobs by axing welfare. And during his first presidential run, as governor of Arkansas he oversaw the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged black man.

Capitalist counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union—the main military and industrial powerhouse of the degenerated and deformed workers states—and East Europe has meant terrible impoverishment and repression for the working people. And it has emboldened the capitalist exploiters here and around the world to intensify their assaults on workers and the oppressed. But they don’t always get their way. The Cuban government has thwarted the U.S. imperialists’ attempt to have their slavecatchers snatch Assata Shakur.

If you look at how the Cuban deformed workers state deals with hurricanes, you can see the superiority of a collectivized property system and planned economy in action. The Cuban Revolution threw out the bloody Mafia and the capitalist exploiters. The profit motive does not rule there. There are no Rockefellers or Donald Trumps deciding who to send to their death. Despite having had to endure a 45-year embargo by the U.S., the Castro regime offered doctors and financial assistance to the U.S., which was of course arrogantly and predictably rebuffed. On many occasions they have provided assistance to the poor and oppressed around the world.

We fight for the unconditional military defense of Cuba and the other remaining deformed workers states—China, North Korea and Vietnam—and their collectivized property against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. Undermining the defense of the deformed workers states are the ruling nationalist Stalinist bureaucracies. We say that the best defense of the gains of those states against capitalist imperialism is to fight to extend the revolutions internationally. Basing themselves upon the anti-internationalist perspective and program of “socialism in one country,” however, the Stalinist bureaucracies are hostile to this perspective. This was shown, among other examples, by the support that the Castro regime gave in 1973 to the Chilean bourgeois popular-front government of Allende, which paved the way for a bloody massacre of the working class and for the rise of the blood-soaked, U.S.-backed Pinochet regime. We fight for workers political revolution in Cuba to sweep away Stalinist bureaucratic misrule and to establish genuine workers democracy and Leninist internationalism.

For Proletarian Independence!

It is necessary to have a historical materialist perspective that is based upon understanding the role of class struggle as the motor force of history. The barbaric attacks against the black population are part of decades of bipartisan assaults on workers and the poor, from “ethnic purity” Jimmy Carter (which is the way he described himself in defense of segregated neighborhoods) to Reagan and Bush Sr. and the “new Democrat” Clinton. Successive Democratic and Republican administrations have taken deadly aim at the gains of labor and the civil rights movement that were wrested from the exploiters through struggle. It didn’t begin with New Orleans. Remember the 1985 MOVE massacre, which killed eleven black men, women and children. That was the bloody signature of the Reagan years, orchestrated by the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department and black Democratic Party mayor Wilson Goode. We have been fighting to burn the memory of that racist crime into the consciousness of the working class and the oppressed—as we must do with the racist atrocity in New Orleans. We do this not only in order to illuminate how terrible the oppression of blacks is (despite the lies of the capitalists and their apologists to the contrary) but to imbue the working class with a consciousness of its historic interests and tasks. The working class cannot be free unless it fights for black freedom, and you cannot have a workers revolution without black freedom at the center of your program.

The workers in this country have to have a class-conscious perspective because the Democrats—that’s the other party of capitalism and war, racism and repression—are working to turn this political crisis for the Bush regime into electoral gains for themselves. They have smiles on their faces and knives behind their backs. Malcolm X, who wasn’t a Marxist with a class-struggle perspective but had sharp observations about the capitalist politicians’ con games, referred to the Democrats as “foxes” and “Dixiecrats” and the Republicans as “wolves.” And he didn’t just denounce white Democrats. The liberals, both black and white, feared and hated him.

The white ruling class has at its disposal black Democratic Party front men and women, who work to keep any struggle within the bounds of capitalism. While black suffering was unfolding in New Orleans, Jesse Jackson stated early on that he knew that there were black people saying that there was racism in the government’s response. But “no sir, boss,” he wasn’t saying that, “yessuh, boss.” Sharpton went to Louisiana—and I bet when he was there he didn’t tell the people that here in New York he was stumping for a fellow Democrat named Fernando Ferrer who said it wasn’t a crime when the murderous cops pumped more than 40 bullets into African immigrant Amadou Diallo.

Watch out for the hustlers who occasionally use militant rhetoric but whose program is to deflect the anger and outrage at this system away from the racist capitalist rulers and to channel it right back into pro-Democratic Party electoral politics. They are not our friends. They are enemies of the working class and the oppressed. And now you have the anti-Semitic, nationalist demagogue Farrakhan calling for a march commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March. This is obscene. That march in 1995 blamed black people for their own oppression; it was a march for “atonement,” which appeased the racist exploiters—and it also excluded women. We have nothing to atone for! Clinton & Co. ate it up. It changed nothing, and that’s why Clinton is supporting this Millions More March. It’s an attempt to pressure the Democrats to pressure Bush.

It’s the same old, same old—pressure the capitalists to reorder their priorities. One of the organizers, Reverend Willie Wilson, has spewed vicious, anti-gay bigotry, which tells you a lot about who’s organizing this. We say that democratic rights are indivisible. It’s in our interests to fight for democratic rights for gays in all aspects of social life, including the right to marriage. The Millions More March is not about waging militant struggle against this brutal system of exploitation and oppression, but about venting some steam in light of growing anger against the present government. Its purpose, again, is to keep the struggle within the safe bounds of this system.

The working class, because of its numbers, organization and role in production, uniquely has the social power to bring down this barbaric profit system. But it takes revolutionary leadership. We have the program to unleash the power of labor and black to strike a hard blow against the growing government repression! So let’s use it!

The Black Panther Party represented the best of a generation of young black radicals who wanted a social revolution. I was attracted to the Panthers because of their boldness and revolutionary spirit. In 1972 I saw Geronimo ji Jaga convicted. He remained unbowed and unbroken. He exemplified courage, and that certainly helped me to continue to fight. However, through intensive struggle, study and travel, I learned the truth of what Lenin said: that the most “refined” and “just” nationalism is incompatible with proletarian internationalism. And that is why I became a Trotskyist.

The reason for the Panthers’ demise was not simply the bloody role played by the hideous FBI COINTELPRO program that killed 38 Panthers and fanned internecine factional bloodletting. I saw this unfold from the vantage point of being a visitor at the Panthers’ international headquarters in Algiers in 1971, since I was living in the Middle East during that period and had met Panthers. But what also facilitated their destruction was their false program, which they called “revolutionary nationalism.” Like most of the New Left, they rejected the central role of the working class, which meant basically going it alone.

Capitalism is a worldwide system and must be overthrown internationally. Our program must be revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist. It must be a program for world socialist revolution. The road to this lies through building internationalist revolutionary workers parties. Otherwise the capitalists will prevail.

We say: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the racist death penalty! Fight government repression! Hands off Lynne Stewart! Hands off Assata Shakur! Free all class-war prisoners! Join us!