Socialist Worker

Ten days that may have changed the world

by Richard Greeman
Issue No. 2708

Protesting in New York

Protesting in New York (Pic: Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden//PA Images)


Sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, mass protests have been sweeping across the US with an intensity not seen since the 1960s.

In over 150 cities, African Americans and their allies have flooded the streets, braving the Covid-19 pandemic, defying police violence, challenging centuries of racial and class inequalities and demanding liberty and justice for all.

Day after day they have confronted a corrupt, racist power structure based on violent repression. 

Richard Greeman, a Marxist writer and activist best known for his work on Victor Serge, gives his analysis of the momentous US events

 

Breaches in the system’s defences

After ten consecutive days in the streets, this outpouring of popular indignation against systematic, historic injustice, has opened a number of breaches in the defensive wall of the system.

The legal authorities in the state of Minnesota, where George Floyd was murdered, have been force to arrest and indict as accomplices the three other policemen who aided and abetted the killer, against whom the charges were raised from third to second degree murder.

A split has opened at the summit of power, where the Secretary of Defense and numerous Pentagon officials have broken with their Commander in Chief, Donald Trump, who has attempted to mobilise the U.S. Army against the protesters.

This historic uprising is an outpouring of accumulated black anger over decades of unpunished police murders of unarmed African-Americans. It articulates the accumulated grief of families and communities.

It reflects the sheer outrage over impunity for killer cops in both the North and the South. It reflects anger at capitalist America’s betrayal of Martin Luther King’s “dream” of non-violent revolution.

It shows the horror at the return to the era of public lynchings cheered on by the president of the US. It impatiently demands that America at long last live up to its proclaimed democratic ideals, here and now.

In the words of one African-American protester, William Achukwu, 28, of San Francisco, “Our Declaration of Independence says life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Right now we are only dealing with the life part here.

"This is a first step. But liberty is what a lot of people out here are marching for."

 

Violence and non-violence

It came as no surprise that local and state officials across the US reacted to largely peaceful, spontaneous mass protests against police brutality and racism by unleashing a maelstrom of militarised police violence.

For a generation, the Federal government has been quietly gifting huge stocks of surplus military equipment, including tanks, to local police forces and sheriffs' offices. Police are eager to play with lethal new toys designed for counter-insurgency in places like Afghanistan.

Under both Democrats (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) and Republicans (George Bush, Donald Trump) the federal state has been arming law enforcement in preparation for a preventive counter-revolution. This is precisely what President Trump is calling for today.

He demands “full dominance” by means of military crackdowns, mass arrests and long prison sentences in the name of “law and order.”

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Thanks to the determination of these masses of militant, but largely non-violent protesters, the military is divided and Trump has not had his way.

Concerning violence, it was feared at first that the numerous incidences of setting fires, smashing shop fronts, and looting, would in some way “spoil” the uprising.

It might also be used to provide a pretext for the violent, military suppression of the whole movement, as called for by Trump. He blamed it all on an imaginary terrorist group called “ANTIFA” (short for “anti-fascism”, in fact a loose network).

At the same time, reports of gangs of young white racists wearing MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) hats committing vandalism, of “Accellerationists” systematically setting fires in black neighbourhoods to “provoke revolution,” and of violent police provocateurs are not entirely to be discounted.

Such actions play into Trump’s hands. But the hundreds of thousands of angry but non-violent protesters, might not have been listened to by the authorities if it had not been for the threat of violence if their voices were ignored.

Instead of burning their own neighbourhoods as has happened in past riots, today’s militants are strategically hitting symbols of state repression and capitalism. They are lighting up and destroying police property, trashing the stores of million-dollar corporations, and even pushing against the gates of the White House.

In any case, as far as “looting” is concerned, as the spokeswomen of BLM argued at George Floyd’s funeral, white people have been looting Africa and African-Americans for centuries. Payback is long overdue.


Black and white anti-racist convergence

What is remarkable and heartening is the realisation that large numbers of the demonstrators in the crowds proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” are white people.

Here again, a serious breach has been opened in the wall of systemic, institutionalised racism that has for centuries enabled the US ruling class to divide and conquer the working masses. It has pitted slave labourers and their discriminated descendants against white wage slaves in a competitive race to the bottom.

Today in some places they are uniting in the fight for justice and equality. Equally remarkable is the continuing. leadership role of women, especially African-American women in the founding of both the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the Women’s March against Trump’s Inauguration.

This convergence of freedom struggles across deeply rooted racial divides promises to open new paths as US social movements emerge from the Covid-19 confinement.

Public officials, like the Mayor of Los Angeles, have been obliged to meet with the protesters and to apologize for previous racist remarks.

 

Cracks within the regime

After ten days during which the protests have continued to increase numerically and to deepen in radical content, cracks have opened in the defences of the ruling corporate billionaire class and have reached the White House.

ForDonald Trump, the self-deluded, ignorant bully and pathological liar supposedly in charge, has finally been challenged by his own appointed security officials.

It must be said that in Trump, today’s billionaire ruling class has the representative it deserves. The Donald’s ineptitude, visible to all, is symbolic of its historic incapacity to retain the right to rule.

Trump’s flawed, self-centred personality incarnates the narrow class interests of the 0.01 percent who own more than half the wealth of the nation.

His obvious selfishness exemplifies that of the billionaires he represents. Out of his willful ignorance, Trump speaks for a corporate capitalist class indifferent to the global ecological and social consequences of its ruthless drive to accumulate. It is indifferent to truth and justice, indifferent indeed to human life itself.

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Trump’s clownish misrule has embarrassed the state itself. First came the childish spectacle of the most powerful man in the world hunkering down in his basement bunker and ordering the White House lights turned off.

Then came the order to assault peaceful protesters with chemical weapons so as to clear the way for Trump to walk to the nearby “Presidents’ Church”—which he never attends and whose pastor he didn’t bother to consult. There he had himself photographed brandishing a huge Bible—which he has most likely never read—like a club.

Trump, whose only earned success in life was his reality TV show “The Apprentice,” apparently devised this bizarre publicity stunt to rally his political base of right-wing Christians. But it backfired when the Bishop of Washington pointed out that Jesus preached love and peace, not war and vengeance.

The next day, even demagogues like Pat Robinson of the far right Christian Coalition spoke out against him.

Let us pause to note that American Christianity, like every other aspect of American civilization, is a knot of contradictions.

Although the racist, conservative, pro-Israel, Christian right has been the core of Trump’s support, liberation theology and the black church have long been the base of the Civil Rights movement for equality.

Indeed, George Floyd the murdered African-American was himself a religiously motivated community peacemaker.

Trump’s phoney populist act may have helped catapult him into office in 2016. But as a quotation often ascribed to president Abraham Lincoln says, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

 

Police: the vicious dogs of the bourgeoisie

As Trump huddled—like Hitler—in his underground bunker, he threatened to unleash vicious dogs” on demonstrators. Trump has the Doberman mentality of the junk-yard owner from Queens he incarnates.

He is the spiritual descendant of the slave-catcher Simon Legree chasing the escaped slave Eliza with his dogs in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Vicious dogs of the bourgeoisie. That’s what the police are paid to be.

Their canines are the sharp teeth of the American state. Along with the Army, cops are the essence of the actual deep state which Marx defined as “special bodies of armed men, courts, prisons etc.”

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Although subservient to the bourgeois state, this police apparatus, like the Mafia with which it is sometimes entwined, has a corporate identity of its own. It is based on omerta or strict group loyalty.

This unwritten rule is the notorious “Blue Wall of Silence” which prevents cops who see their “brothers” committing graft and violent abuses from speaking out.

The blue wall assures police impunity, and it is organised through police “unions” which, although affiliated with the AFL-CIO, are violently reactionary, anti-labour and pro-Trump.

The President of the International Police Union has been filmed wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat and shaking hands with Trump at a political rally.

The wall of silence extends up the repressive food chain to prosecutors, district attorneys and even progressive mayors. New York’s Bill de Blasio defended police driving vehicles into a crowd of demonstrators. He did this even though his own daughter was arrested as a Black Lives Matter demonstrator.

Dei Blasio, like his reactionary predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, knows that his political future is dependent on the good will of the police Union. Even junkyard owners are afraid of their own vicious dogs.

A week later, that sacrosanct blue wall is beginning to crumble. The Minnesota authorities have been forced to escalate the charges against Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s killer, to second degree murder—why not first—and arrest his three police accomplices. And these ex-police have begun to rat each other out.

 

Race and class in US history

American society has been riddled with contradictions since its beginnings. These contradictions are still being played out in the streets of over 150 U.S. cities.

The uprisings, interracial from the beginning, express popular frustration with the lack of progress. We have seen centuries of struggle against slavery, a bloody civil war in the 1860s and the “second American revolution” of Reconstruction.

We had the Civil Rights movement and the urban riots of the 1960s. Yet the lives of the descendants of black slaves are still not safe in the “land of liberty”.

The American Revolution of the 18th Century professed a universal principle. It put forward, as expressed in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, that “All men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.”

Yet that promised equality was simultaneously contradicted by the inclusion in the US Constitution of clauses which institutionalised black slavery in the American Republic. It also , assured the permanent predominance in the federal government for the slaveholding Southern states.

The electoral system created by the US Constitution allowed the Southerners to include their slaves as “three fifths of a man”.

Thus the minority of Southern slave owners could outvote the more populous North and dominate the Union. This hypocritical “compromise” was the price of national unity in a nation “half-free and half-slave.”

Accordingly, ten of the first 12 American Presidents were slave owners. More and more such “compromises” favouring the slave owner interests were introduced as new states were added to the Union.

This rickety, lopsided Federal Union based on Southern domination held until 1860.

However, when Northern moderate Abraham Lincoln took office as President in 1861, most of the slave owning states seceded from the Union. They formed a rebellious Confederacy, launched a war on the United States.

They also sought recognition from Great Britain, the Confederacy’s main customer for slave-grown cotton.

It is often been argued that the bitterly fought U.S. Civil War, which lasted four years and registered higher casualty rates than even WWI, was not really “about slavery.” But it was.

To hide this ugly truth, the white Southerners still call it “the War Between the States.” Yet the war was precipitated by white Abolitionists like John Brown, who aided and provoked slave rebellions.

Moreover, the huge numbers of young farmers and mechanics who volunteered and even re-enlisted to fight for the North knew they were fighting for human freedom. The correspondence with their families and hometown newspapers indicated this.

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Indeed, the Civil War, long a bloody stalemate, was won by the North only after Lincoln unleashed the fighting power of the black slaves in the South. Slaves escaped from their plantations and flocked to the Union Armies, depriving the white South of much of its black labour force.

The Union Army fed them, immediately put them to work, and later enrolled them in black regiments who fought bravely and effectively to defeat the slaveocracy. Not “about slavery?”

Meanwhile, in England anti-slavery textile workers were boycotting the cotton-exporting Confederacy.

Karl Marx, speaking for this movement, stressed the class basis for their idealistic expression of inter-racial solidarity. He proclaimed, “Labour in the white skin can never be free as long as labor in the black skin is branded.”

African-American workers in the US are no longer “branded” like their enslaved ancestors. But even today the colour of their skin brands them.

It makes them prey to oppressors, like bosses, landlords, discriminatory banks and the violent racist police.

The working masses who face not only a political crisis but also the crisis of an ongoing pandemic, the crisis of poverty and mass unemployment, and the impending climate crisis.

Like the British workers in Marx’s day, today’s white demonstrators know in their hearts that they can “never be free” and never be safe from state violence until Black Lives really do matter.

They know that “Black and White Unite and Fight” is the only possible way to block authoritarian government, prevent fascism, establish democracy, institute class equality and face the future.

 


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