The contribution that we are publishing below was posted on our online discussion forum by an ICC sympathiser in response to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in early August, and the subsequent protests and unrest.
Among the strengths of the posting are that it criticises the rhetoric of black nationalism and left liberalism. It acknowledges that looting, setting things on fire, and undirected expressions of anger are not in themselves going to change the world. It identifies the violence of state repression as a global phenomenon. It sees the importance of workers’ struggle and the need for social revolution.
The shooting of a young black man by police in the US followed by protests is not unusual. The text obliquely refers to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in 2012, and the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland in 2009. These are among the incidents that are known internationally, for the angry responses they provoked. In fact the latest available figures show that a white police officer kills a black person in the US on average 96 times a year. In total the figure reported by local police to the FBI of all killings by the police is typically more than 400 a year (and that self-reported figure is probably a great underestimation). It could be suggested that, alongside the protests, it is also significant the number of times that there have been no protests.
The text also insists that “working people have to continue to defend themselves against the brutal repression of the ruling class”. We would add that, in the face of repression, elementary self-defence can be the beginning of self-organisation. If you look at what happened in Greece with the December 2008 Athens killing of Alexandros Grigoropoulos and the subsequent protests, there were many occupations of universities and schools, which often devoted time to discuss questions way beyond the current situation. It is not just a matter of carefully considering “our tactics and methods and their effectiveness”, or finding out the best way to deal with tear gas and rubber bullets, important though that is. The extension of protests into a wider movement is posed with every struggle. The “more reflection and discussion” that is necessary is not limited to the tactics of struggle, but requires a serious attempt to understand capitalism, what it has become, and how the working class stands in relation to its exploiters and oppressors. The text asks what would happen “If one day we all woke up and just said, ‘No’”? In reality, the process that leads to revolution involves the development of class consciousness, drawing lessons from the setback of struggles, reflecting on the historic experience of the working class, and, ultimately, identifying the goal of communism. The protests of today can only be part of the movement toward a social revolution through the development of consciousness on a massive scale, a process that necessarily goes through numerous advances and retreats..
The post is right to point to the violence of state repression. In Ferguson armoured cars and snipers were routinely deployed. Local police throughout the US get military surplus equipment. The US has been in a lot of wars. That’s a lot of weaponry for a system desperate to defend itself. It also underlines the necessary scale and consciousness required of the struggle against it
There are a few formulations in the post that we would query. For example, the idea that “the wealthy American capitalist can’t afford a prosperous black nation” is contrary to the way capitalism actually functions. If there ever is prosperity, a rising sector or national group with money to spend, then it offers capitalism possibilities to sell more of its commodities. Whatever the prejudices of individual bourgeois, capitalists like selling things, whatever the colour of the money, the buyer, or the government.
In terms of the repression of the bourgeoisie, this is posed worldwide, fundamentally because the working class is an international class, which can only threaten capitalist domination through an international struggle. As the text says “workers have to unite together across racial lines in order to save society and possibly all of human civilization from destruction”.
A Fire in the Master’s House is Lit
Immediately outside the confines of a tightly packed apartment complex in Ferguson, Missouri lay the crumpled corpse of a young teenager. His body was left in the street for four hours. He had been shot six times by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. This dead young man had no criminal record and the police did not have a warrant for his arrest. His name was Michael Brown. He was 18 years old.
So Ferguson joins the list, along with Sanford, Money, San Francisco, New York City, London, and so many other places in the United States and the world.
The response from the African-American community who are joined together with many other working people in St. Louis County has been fairly significant. However the rhetoric coming from people and the protests has ranged from black nationalism to “left liberalism” to libertarianism. Most of the dialogue has been based around the idea that race and human rights are the main issues in Michael Brown’s death.
But what other forces are at work here?
The repression of the protests and anger from the people of Ferguson, and across the country, by police and other government forces has struck a chord with many Americans. Among the many questions being asked, why are so many black youth being killed in similar situations in America? Is the life of an African-American valued less than others? Why aren’t the rights of African-American people better respected in the “democratic” system in America?
The capitalist system exploits all working people. Workers all over America are subjected to the same kinds of repression, even if the scale and drama of each situation varies.
There is a long tradition of the United States government violently suppressing street protests and assemblies by working class people! And all over the rest of the world!
Racism is at its core based on ethno-national divisions. The ruling class employs the police and the paramilitary (paid for by our taxes) who kill our children over bogus reasons because they themselves are inherently racist. Capitalism breeds racism. The wealthy American capitalist can’t afford a prosperous black nation, in Missouri, in California, in Africa or anywhere else. Capitalism means the competition of nations, races, economies and this relies directly on the elbow grease of all working men and women.
Ferguson, Missouri right now looks more like the West Bank than the United States. This is a common sentiment of the demonstrators, who have been talking back and forth with Palestinians and Egyptians about the best way to avoid tear gas and rubber bullets.
Why are the demonstrators in Gaza and Israel experiencing similar events to those of working class people in the “first world”? Why these experiences in a “developed” nation like the United States? Because working people have no borders, no countries. No matter where we live we are all subjected to the will of the state government, “democratic” or otherwise. It should come then as no surprise that the Ferguson police chief himself, along with many other St. Louis county police officers have actually trained weapons combat and guerrilla tactics in Israel in recent years.
Isn’t it Ironic? Nope, it’s just capitalism.
Working people have to continue to defend themselves against the brutal repression of the ruling class through the use of the capitalist state, whether it’s economic repression, the repression of people’s dignity, or the violent repression and murder of our youth.
But we have to carefully consider our tactics and methods and their effectiveness. Unchanneled anger gets us nowhere. More reflection and discussion is always necessary. Setting trashcans on fire and throwing rocks at armored personnel carriers and urban tanks is not the path to stopping the murder of black children. Neither is looting strip malls.
The only solution is a social revolution, which can only be carried out by working people like you and me. No matter how much we appeal to our handlers, the ruling class, to improve the condition of our lives it is fundamentally in their interest not to help. This decadent system can barely stay afloat in its current condition. And to demand from the government and the people who control us respect of our “democratic rights” and basic needs is to overload this system’s capacity. Unless we all want to go down sinking together, workers have to unite together across racial lines in order to save society and possibly all of human civilization from destruction.
What rights can they give us, democratic or not, that would stop our bosses from taking a cut of our work and our pay for their profit? As long as the exploitation of workers continues, and the extraction of profit from the labor of the working class continues, no amount of “civil” disobedience is going to stop poverty! We are being clubbed over the head by capitalism. It doesn’t help if the club was democratically elected.
We have to take away the stick.
What our rulers have continued to show us is that no matter how peaceful we are, there are always violent reprisals to be had at the hands of the state. Many times when people talk about social and economic justice, the redistribution of the wealth, it assumed the system is in a position to grant these reforms. But the wealthy are not just going to hand over their wealth! Do you think they store their billions under their mattress, or in massive piggy banks? No, their wealth is in hedge funds, stocks and bonds, and to demand economic justice is a direct hit to their money. Money extorted from the profit of our labor.
If all the people in Ferguson, including the police and the politicians, just stopped going to work, who would be around to protect us from each other? Would we be killing and stealing from each other? Or is it the system itself that encourages the killing? If one day we all woke up and just said, “No”, what would happen to the world?
Maybe places like Ferguson, Missouri could be a better place.