Until we win: Black Labor and Liberation in capitalism’s disposable era

By Kali Akuno

Read the entire article on the “Black Left Unity Network” blog at tinyurl.com/ovyytvs

black-woman-minimum-wage-placardSince the rebellion in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, Black people throughout the United States have been grappling with a number of critical questions, such as why are Black people being hunted and killed every 28 hours or more by various operatives of the law? Why don’t Black people seem to matter to this society? And what can and must we do to end these attacks and liberate ourselves? There are concrete answers to these questions. Answers that are firmly grounded in the capitalist dynamics that structure the brutal European settler-colonial project we live in and how Afrikan people have historically been positioned within it.

The value of Black life

There was a time in the United States Empire when Afrikan people, aka, Black people, were deemed to be extremely valuable to the “American project,” when our lives as it is said, “mattered.” This “time” was the era of chattel slavery, when the labor provided by Afrikan people was indispensable to the settler-colonial enterprise, accounting for nearly half of the commodified value produced within its holdings and exchanged in “domestic” and international markets. Our ancestors were held and regarded as prize horses or bulls, something to be treated with a degree of “care” (i.e., enough to ensure that they were able to work and reproduce their labor, and produce value for their enslavers) because of their centrality to the processes of material production.

What mattered was Black labor power and how it could be harnessed and controlled, not Afrikan humanity. Afrikan humanity did not matter — it had to be denied in order to create and sustain the social rationale and systemic dynamics that allowed for the commodification of human beings. These “dynamics” included armed militias and slave patrols, iron-clad nonexception social clauses like the “one-drop” rule, the slave codes, vagrancy laws, and a complex mix of laws and social customs all aimed at oppressing, controlling, and scientifically exploiting Black life and labor to the maximum degree. This systemic need served the variants of white supremacy, colonial subjugation and imperialism that capitalism built to govern social relations in the U.S. All of the fundamental systems created to control Afrikan life and labor between the 17th and 19th centuries are still in operation today, despite a few surface moderations, and serve the same basic functions.

The correlation between capital accumulation (earning a profit) and the value of Black life to the overall system has remained consistent throughout the history of the U.S. settler-colonial project, despite shifts in production regimes (from agricultural, to industrial, to service and finance oriented) and how Black labor was deployed. The more value (profits) Black labor produces, the more Black lives are valued. The less value (profits) Black people produce, the less Black lives are valued. When Black lives are valued, they are secured enough to allow for their reproduction (at the very least). When they are not, they can be and have been readily discarded and disposed of. This is the basic equation and the basic social dynamic regarding the value of Black life to U.S. society.

The age of disposability

We are living and struggling through a transformative era of the global capitalist system. Over the past 40 years, the expansionary dynamics of the system have produced a truly coordinated system of resource acquisition and controls, easily exploitable and cheap labor, production, marketing and consumption on a global scale. The increasingly automated and computerized dynamics of this expansion have resulted in millions, if not billions, of people being displaced through two broad processes: one, from “traditional” methods of life sustaining production (mainly farming), and the other from their “traditional” or ancestral homelands and regions (with people being forced to move to large cities and “foreign” territories in order to survive). As the International Labor Organization recently reported in its “World Employment and Social Outlook 2015” paper, this displacement renders millions to structurally regulated surplus or expendable statuses.

Capitalist logic does not allow for surplus populations to be sustained for long. They either have to be reabsorbed into the value producing mechanisms of the system, or disposed of. Events over the past 20 (or more) years, such as the forced separation of Yugoslavia, the genocide in Burundi and Rwanda, the never ending civil and international wars in Zaire/Congo and the central Afrikan region, the mass displacement of farmers in Mexico all clearly indicate that the system does not possess the current capacity to absorb the surplus populations and maintain its equilibrium.

The dominant actors in the global economy — multinational corporations, the transnationalist capitalist class and state managers — are in crisis mode trying to figure out how to best manage this massive surplus in a politically justifiable (but expedient) manner.

This incapacity to manage crises caused by capitalism itself is witnessed by numerous examples of haphazard intervention at managing the rapidly expanding number of displaced peoples such as:

* The ongoing global food crisis (which started in the mid-2000s), where millions are unable to afford basic foodstuffs because of rising prices and climate induced production shortages;

* The corporate driven displacement of hundreds of millions of farmers and workers in the Global South (particularly in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia);

* Military responses (including the building of fortified walls and blockades) to the massive migrant crises confronting the governments of the U.S., Western Europe, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, etc.;

*The corporate driven attempt to confront climate change almost exclusively by market (commodity) mechanisms;

*The scramble for domination of resources and labor, and the escalating number of imperialist facilitated armed conflicts and attempts at regime change in Africa, Asia (including Central Asia) and Eastern Europe.

The capitalist system is demonstrating, day by day, that it no longer possesses the managerial capacity to absorb newly dislocated and displaced populations into the international working class (proletariat), and it is becoming harder and harder for the international ruling class to sustain the provision of material benefits that have traditionally been awarded to the most loyal subjects of capitalism’s global empire, namely the “native” working classes in Western Europe and settlers in projects like the U.S., Canada and Australia.

When the capitalist system can’t expand and absorb, it must preserve itself by shifting towards “correction and contraction” — excluding and if necessary disposing of all the surpluses that cannot be absorbed or consumed at a profit. We are now clearly in an era of correction and contraction that will have genocidal consequences for the surplus populations of the world if left unaddressed.

This dynamic brings us back to the U.S. and the crisis of jobs, mass incarceration and the escalating number of extrajudicial police killings confronting Black people.

Return to the source

The intersecting, oppressive systems of capitalism, colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy have consistently tried to reduce Afrikan people to objects, tools, chattel and cheap labor. Despite the systemic impositions and constraints these systems have tried to impose, Afrikan people never lost sight of their humanity, never lost sight of their own value and never conceded defeat.

In the age of mounting human surplus, and the devaluation and disposal of life, Afrikan people are going to have to call on the strengths of our ancestors and the lessons learned in over 500 years of struggle against the systems of oppression and exploitation that beset them. Building a self-determining future based on self-respect, self-reliance, social solidarity, cooperative development and internationalism is a way forward that offers us the chance to survive and thrive in the 21st century and beyond.

Kali Akuno is the producer of “An American Nightmare: Black Labor and Liberation,” a joint documentary project of Deep Dish TV and Cooperation Jackson. He is the co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, and a co-writer of “Operation Ghetto Storm,” better known as the “Every 28 Hours” report. Kali can be reached at kaliakuno@gmail.com or on Twitter @KaliAkuno.


50th Anniversary of Watts Rebellion

by Abayomi Azikiwe

Just five days after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Watts Rebellion erupted. It lasted several days.

Coming out of the Selma campaign, U.S. Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to introduce legislation designed to ensure the right to vote for African Americans.

Nonetheless, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the voting rights legislation the following year were not nearly enough to assuage the African-American people in their quest for full equality and self-determination. Unemployment, poverty, racist violence and substandard education fueled the anger of working-class and poor youth throughout the U.S.

As early as May 11, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala., an often forgotten rebellion occurred in the midst of the largely nonviolent struggle to break down legalized segregation. In 1964, a series of violent outbreaks occurred in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Harlem, N.Y., and several cities in New Jersey.

Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, broke with the Nation of Islam in March 1964 and later formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity, calling for a revolutionary organization urging self-defense against racist violence and international solidarity with the African and Middle Eastern independence movements and progressive governments.

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an independent organization, challenged the seating of racist Democratic Party delegates at the national convention that year in Atlantic City, N.J. Contributing to the loss of faith in the Democratic Party, they were refused recognition at the convention despite the MFDP’s mobilization and organization of tens of thousands of African-American workers, youth and farmers throughout that racist state. Fannie Lou Hamer, vice-chair of the MFDP, delivered an impassioned plea to the credentials committee of the Democratic National Convention documenting the horrors under which the African-American people of Mississippi were living in 1964.

However, the Johnson administration — utilizing Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who became Johnson’s running mate, and Minnesota Attorney General Walter Mondale — sought to convince the MFDP to accept two seats at-large on the promise that segregated party delegations would not be allowed at the next convention in 1968. The compromise was rejected by the MFDP, yet Johnson went on to win the presidential elections against Barry Goldwater by a landslide that November.

Watts changed course of history

On Aug. 11, 1965, a rebellion in Los Angeles was sparked by police harassment of an African-American motorist and his family. Underlying the rebellion was the continuing national oppression and the failure of civil rights laws to ensure full political and economic rights to the Black masses.

Aug. 13, 1965: National Guard troops occupy Watts.

That day a very common incident occurred when Marquette Frye, an African-American youth, was stopped with his brother in the car and later arrested by Lee W. Minikus, a white California Highway Patrol officer. Minikus said that Frye was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol and resisted arrest. Soon the youths’ mother came on the scene and moved in to protect her sons, who were being accosted by the cops.

In a matter of minutes, a crowd of people had gathered at the scene of Frye’s arrest at Avalon and 116th streets. The decades-long strained relations between police and the community exploded into a confrontation.

This skirmish soon spread throughout the area in the commercial district of Watts, an extremely impoverished African-American neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. During the course of the next week, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, overturning and burning automobiles and liberating and destroying supermarkets, liquor stores, retail outlets and pawnshops.

The weeklong rebellion required more than 14,000 California National Guard troops, mobilized across a curfew zone covering 45 miles, to restore stability. It resulted in the loss of 34 lives and more than 1,000 reported injuries.

Four thousand people were arrested before order was restored on Aug. 17. Elected officials and law-enforcement agencies promoted the notion that the unrest was the result of “outside agitators.”

Nonetheless, a study completed that December by the McCone Commission, appointed by California Gov. Pat Brown, discovered what the African-American community had already known: that the rebellion was the direct outcome of the people’s subjection to high unemployment rates, substandard housing and inadequate schools. Despite the commission’s findings, municipal and state officials systematically refused to reform police-community relations or create conditions for the social and economic advancement of African Americans in the Watts area.

According to the website blackpast.org: “In spite of the protest, the Watts Rebellion did not significantly improve the lives of the community’s Black population. While the revolt inspired the federal government to implement programs to address unemployment, education, healthcare, and housing under Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty,’ much of the money allocated for these programs was eventually absorbed by the Vietnam War. Today most of the population of Watts is Latino with many residents from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Although the population has changed, many of the issues of poverty, alienation and discrimination still plague the community today.”

Legacy of the Watts Rebellion

The Watts Rebellion was the largest of such outbreaks led by African Americans up until that time. It was followed by hundreds of other rebellions between 1965 and 1970 throughout the U.S.

In 1966, “Black Power!” became the rallying cry of millions, stemming from the “March Against Fear” through Mississippi that June. Organizers for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, such as Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), H. Rap Brown (later Jamil Abdullah al-Amin) and Willie Ricks (Mukassa Dada), placed greater emphasis on self-determination, Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism.

Thousands of African Americans were elected to public office and millions entered higher educational institutions and employment categories from which they had previously been excluded. Nonetheless, racial capitalism and national oppression remained entrenched.

When the world economic system began a massive restructuring in the mid-to-late 1970s, many of the gains won through the Civil Rights, Black Power and women’s movements were eroded. By the first decade of the 21st century, affirmative action programs were outlawed in various states. The downsizing of education and public systems of governance disproportionately impacted the oppressed communities, since it was in these sectors that the most profound advances had been made.

Out of these rebellions came an emphasis on revolutionary politics, armed struggle and self-determination. It was only after the urban rebellions that any serious movements towards affirmative action, electoral reform and community control were begun.

Significance of Watts in 2015

Today, urban rebellion remains a key element in the struggle of the African-American people against national oppression and economic exploitation. Since 2012, with the vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin and the resultant acquittal of George Zimmerman, a rising consciousness of and intolerance for racism has been rapidly accelerating.

When 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, a rebellion erupted in Ferguson, Mo., prompting mass demonstrations throughout the U.S. and around the world. Another rebellion in Baltimore this April further illustrated the re-emerging, militant character of the African-American people.

These rebellions and demonstrations must be organized into an independent revolutionary movement. The U.S. capitalist system fundamentally has nothing to offer oppressed youth.

The plight of African Americans and other oppressed nations have not been addressed at all by the administration of President Barack Obama. Nominees for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidacies are conveniently sidestepping the question of the national oppression of people-of-color communities.

Such a political atmosphere provides vast avenues of opportunity for a revolutionary movement to organize these constituencies in opposition to the ruling class. The unrest in Ferguson surrounding the first anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown illustrates that people are ready to fight and only need effective organization to give expression to their social and political aspirations.

Abayomi is the editor of Pan-African Newswire. This article appeared in Workers World and can be accessed at http://www.workers.org/articles/2015/08/12/50th-anniversary-of-watts-rebellion/

The Civil War: Lessons for today’s struggle

Below are excerpts from the book “The Klan and the Government: Foes or Allies?” written in 1983 by Sam Marcy, the founder of Workers World Party. The entire book can be read online at workers.org.

In the Civil War in the U.S., the bourgeois democratic revolution was aborted. It did result in ending involuntary servitude. It freed the Black people from their legal ties to the slavocracy. But it failed to carry out the rest of the basic and revolutionary measures which were necessary for formal equality with the white population.

Nevertheless, as a result of the revolutionary prosecution of the war against the Southern slavocracy, the Southern slave state governments were immensely weakened and in part replaced through federal intervention and military occupation by the central government.

These measures were made necessary in order to defend the rights of the Black people and to insure that the Southern slave-state governments did not violate the new federal legislation which the U.S. government had promulgated.

The Southern state governments were thus under the jurisdiction of the U.S. military and had to obey its orders. Unable to do anything legally to subvert the new status and rights of the Black people, the Southern planters resorted to building a conspiratorial terrorist organization to supplement the Southern states’ legalized governments.

We see therefore that the KKK arose as an illegal, extra- governmental secret apparatus, nourished, promoted, and organized by the then legalized governments of the South. …

Need for people’s militia

The duty of the federal government in the South under Presidents Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, and Hayes was not merely to juridically proclaim and defend the rights of the freed men and women. Its duty was also to train, educate, and organize them, above all on a military basis so they would be able to properly defend themselves against the violence instigated and perpetrated by the revival of the slavocracy’s political power.

It was not enough to have subdued the slavocracy militarily. There had to be a counter-force or a parallel force as against the armed forces and repressive organs still wielded by the Southern states, notwithstanding the breakup of the old Confederacy.

It’s true that the Confederacy seemed crushed and powerless, insofar as exercising its political sway against the Northern bourgeoisie. But the old planter aristocracy was permitted to rebuild and revive on the basis of retaining all its private property and land as well as whatever financial and commercial assets it still had.

Under these circumstances, the economic and state power of the planter aristocracy remained an overwhelming force as against the Black people, notwithstanding the gains made — including those in the state legislatures of the South. What the Black population needed to resist the growth of the KKK was an organized militia, trained, armed, and financed by the federal government to protect and defend their newly won rights and also to contest the planters’ right to the land — which the former slaves were entitled to no less than the serfs in Europe during the bourgeois revolutions there.

Treachery of Northern bourgeoisie

The federal government retreated under pressure from many of the capitalists in the North who felt that they had got what they wanted. … As a result the treacherous bourgeoisie withdrew the federal troops from the South and left the Black people defenseless against the KKK. The Southern aristocracy thereafter began a large-scale campaign to secretly recruit, organize, and promote the Klan as a mass terror weapon with an extra-legal and extra-state character, in order to destroy the ability of the Black people to utilize their newly won legal rights as proclaimed by the Constitution. The right of self-defense was virtually nullified by the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. …

Bourgeois scholars of Reconstruction, especially the more reactionary ones, underestimate the tremendous role played by the Black people in achieving the victory over the Southern oligarchy. They do everything to belittle the role of Black people and only rarely is there any mention of what W.E.B. Du Bois in his great book “Black Reconstruction” calls the general strike of Black people, that is, the abandonment of service on the plantations and the support it rendered to the Northern army, which was indispensable for the victory over the plantation aristocracy. …