Workers Vanguard No. 901
26 October 2007
Free Mychal Bell Now!
Vicious Racist Backlash After Jena Protest
Finish the Civil War!
For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
An onslaught of racist provocations against black people has swept the U.S. in the last month in a backlash against the September 20 demonstration in Jena, Louisiana, when as many as 50,000 poured out to protest Jim Crow “justice.” Nooses have been hung to terrorize black people at workplaces and at homes and schools from California to Connecticut. In Pittsburgh, black ironworker Errol Madyun found a noose at his workstation, and at a construction site in South Elgin, Illinois, a black worker looked up to find a noose above his head. In a highly publicized case, Madonna Constantine, a popular black professor at Columbia University Teachers College, found a noose hanging on the door of her office.
These incidents are an obvious, ominous echo of what happened in Jena, where three hangman’s nooses were placed on a so-called “white tree” at the local high school after a black student asked to sit there in August 2006. Following months of racist insults and threats, five black youth were charged with attempted murder following a scuffle with a white student, while the sixth was charged as a juvenile. Just days before the mass protest, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, the only one of the six students who had been continuously imprisoned since the school yard fight, saw his aggravated assault and conspiracy charges thrown out because he had been tried as an adult. Outrageously, the day after the demonstration he was denied bail. He was finally granted bail the next week only to be vindictively returned to custody on October 11 on the pretext that the school yard scuffle was a probation violation! Free Mychal Bell now! Drop all charges against the Jena Six!
In the lead-up to the mass Jena protest, a noose was found on a tree outside a black cultural center at the University of Maryland. Only hours after the September 20 demonstration, two young whites, one an admitted Klansman, provocatively drove through the nearby city of Alexandria, threatening people who had returned from the protest by dragging two nooses from their pickup truck, which contained a rifle and brass knuckles. A Chicago Tribune (24 September) article reported that white-supremacist Web sites have featured one racist provocation after another against the six youth and their supporters. Three days after the protest, a window display in defense of the Jena Six at the Chicago office of the Socialist Workers Party was defaced with racist and anti-gay slogans.
Make no mistake about it: the noose is a call to race terror, invoking the lynch rope that brutally killed thousands of black people in the century after the Civil War. “The hangman’s rope has become so prolific, some say, it could replace the Nazi swastika and the Ku Klux Klan’s fiery cross as the nation’s reigning symbol of hate,” wrote the Washington Post (20 October). Like the “N” word, the lynch rope embodies a program of white supremacy and violence against black people. This was illustrated on September 11, when a group of whites hurling the “N” word attacked black basketball players from the Borough of Manhattan Community College in lower Manhattan. Graffiti with the “N” word and other racist slurs have accompanied many of the nooses left in recent weeks.
The oppression of black people was built into the American republic from its inception. It took a bloody Civil War to smash the slavocracy and free the black slaves. But the Northern capitalists who had defeated the slaveowners betrayed the promise of black freedom, codified in the Compromise of 1877 which withdrew the last federal troops from the states of the former Confederacy and sealed the defeat of Reconstruction. The racist reaction, including waves of Ku Klux Klan terror, led to the establishment of the Jim Crow system of segregation. While de jure segregation was dismantled some 40 years ago in the context of mass struggles for black equality, the segregation of the mass of black people as a race-color caste at the bottom of society remains a cornerstone of American capitalism.
This fact was undeniably shown when thousands of black and poor people were abandoned in the face of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Over 1,500 were killed and many thousands more displaced, including those who developed serious illnesses from living in FEMA trailers contaminated with formaldehyde. Today, the case of the Jena Six and the proliferation of nooses in the U.S. should further dispel the myth of the “end of racism.” The Spartacist League fights for the program of revolutionary integrationism. We seek to combat every manifestation of racist discrimination, fighting in particular to mobilize the social power of the integrated labor movement. At the same time, we understand that black liberation can be achieved only through the overthrow of the capitalist order and the integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society. We say: Finish the Civil War! For black liberation through socialist revolution!
So many nooses have appeared in the New York area recently that the Harlem-based Amsterdam News (18 October) ran a headline, “Noose York City.” For starters, the unions must defend their members and teach the racist scum a lesson when nooses appear at workplaces. The potential for labor-centered struggle against racist attacks was seen in NYC in October 1999, when the Ku Klux Klan called a rally in downtown Manhattan to organize for racist terror. The Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, initiated an 8,000-strong labor/black mobilization that ran the Klan out of town. Black Democrat Al Sharpton, who postures as a fighter against racist injustice from NYC to Jena and beyond, went to bat for the KKK, filing a court brief on behalf of the Klan. The reformist International Socialist Organization did its part in the failed effort to block the labor/black mobilization, building a diversionary rally for “tolerance” that included Latino cops on its platform.
The outpouring of protest over the Jena Six case expressed widespread anger over the conditions of black life in this country, which in many respects have worsened since the 1960s, from unemployment and rotten schools and housing to rampant racist cop terror and the massive imprisonment of blacks and Latinos due to the “war on drugs.” The tens of thousands who came to Jena on September 20 included members of the United Auto Workers, International Longshoremen’s Association and other trade unionists. But as we described in “Jena Six: Racist ‘Justice’ U.S.A.” (WV No. 899, 28 September), “Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, whose longtime role as ‘black leaders’ has been to quell social unrest, came down to Jena to preach reliance on the same ‘justice’ system that from the county sheriff on up is a machine of racial and class oppression.”
This was precisely the bankrupt strategy offered by Democratic politicians who used an October 16 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee as a platform to demand that George Bush’s Justice Department intervene in the Jena Six case. Bourgeois liberals push the deadly illusion that racist injustice is an aberration that can be set right by federal intervention. What the cops and prosecutors are doing to the Jena Six is normal operating procedure in racist capitalist America. The capitalist state—based on bodies of armed men such as the police, military, courts and prisons—exists to protect the rule and profits of the capitalist class, which thrives on the racial oppression that serves to divide the working class and block united class struggle.
The same Department of Justice that Sharpton & Co. appeal to helped oversee the murder of 38 Black Panther Party members and railroaded hundreds of others to prison, as part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operations against black and leftist activists in the 1960s. Today this murderous state apparatus has been enormously strengthened by the increased powers that Congress—with bipartisan support—and the courts have given to the President, the military and the cops in the name of the “war on terror.”
The current rash of racist provocations has encouraged renewed calls for “hate crime” laws. These calls not only foster illusions in the racist cops and courts but bolster their repressive power. Similar measures have historically been wielded against the left, black militants and student radicals. For example, the Smith Act, passed in the lead-up to World War II ostensibly to go after domestic Nazis and their sympathizers, was used first against the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, and later the Communist Party.
Combatting illusions in the beneficence or neutrality of the capitalist state is crucial to unleashing the social power of the working class, a power which derives from the fact that its labor produces the profits pocketed by the bosses. A taste of this power was seen in the December 2005 New York City transit strike, in which this multiracial union crippled the finance capital of the world. That strike demonstrated how the racial divisions fostered by the capitalist rulers can be overcome through class struggle. Labor’s power must be mobilized not only to defend workers’ wages and benefits but to defend the rights of black people, immigrants and others oppressed by the capitalist ruling class. Standing in the way of such a mobilization is the trade-union bureaucracy, which supports the capitalist profit system and politically ties workers to the class enemy through allegiance to the Democratic Party.
We fight to break these political chains and to forge a revolutionary workers party, independent of and in opposition to the bourgeois state and its parties. Whether headed by the likes of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, the Democrats are the other party of racism, exploitation and imperialist war. As we put forward in the Programmatic Statement of the Spartacist League/U.S., “For Socialist Revolution in the Bastion of World Imperialism”:
“Despite the destruction of industrial jobs and erosion of union strength, black workers, who have a significantly higher rate of trade-union membership than do white workers, continue to be integrated into strategic sectors of the industrial proletariat, which alone has the power to shatter this racist, capitalist system. Won to a revolutionary program, black workers will be the living link fusing the anger of the dispossessed ghetto masses with the social power of the multiracial proletariat under the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party.”