The USA arose on the foundation of the genocidal theft of Native American (Indian) lands, and the enslavement of African people. Since that time, the oppression of Black people has been essential to the functioning of this system, changing as that system has changed, but always deeply woven into the very fabric of society. White supremacy and capitalism have proven to be so closely intertwined that, even when millions have risen up, time and again, to fight the oppression of African-American people, the system has in the end responded by re-entrenching and reinforcing, even if modifying the forms of, that oppression. Today’s situation is extreme and dire; and any solution that leaves capitalism intact is no solution at all and, indeed, a damaging dead end.
“The young man was shot 41 times while reaching for his wallet”…“the 13-year-old was shot dead in mid-afternoon when police mistook his toy gun for a pistol”… “the unarmed young man, shot by police 50 times, died on the morning of his wedding day”… “the young woman, unconscious from having suffered a seizure, was shot 12 times by police standing around her locked car”… “the victim, arrested for disorderly conduct, was tortured and raped with a stick in the back of the station-house by the arresting officers.”Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a police officer in a St. Louis, Missouri, suburb.
In South L.A. neighborhood of Ezell Ford, the young, mentally ill, unarmed black man who was shot and killed by police two days after the killing of Mike Brown.
Moments later, steps from the spot where Ezell Ford was killed, a Los Angeles Police Department patrol car raced down the street, chasing down a black suspect. Two white officers seized the man, who grabbed a fistful of an officer’s shirt. They took him down. At one point in the scuffle, the man appeared to reach for an officer’s gun. Neighbors quickly gathered to jeer at the officers.
Each moment was an expectant one, high tension for long minutes, and it’s eerily easy to imagine how nerves on both sides could’ve caused this situation to escalate quickly.
Does it surprise you to know that in each of the above cases the victim was Black? If you live in the USA, it almost certainly doesn’t.
Think what that means: that without even being told, you knew these victims of police murder and brutality were Black. Those cases—and the thousands more like them that have occurred just in the past few decades—add rivers of tears to an ocean of pain. And they are symptoms of a larger, still deeper problem.
Conventional wisdom says that while some disparities remain, things have generally advanced for Black people in America and today they are advancing still. People like Obama and Oprah are held up as proof of this. But have things really moved forward? Is this society actually becoming “post-racial”?
The answer to that question can be found in every corner of U.S. society.
Take employment: Black people remain crowded into the lowest rungs of the ladder…that is, if they can find work at all. While many of the basic industries that once employed Black people have closed down, study after study shows employers to be more likely to hire a white person with a criminal record than a Black person without one, and 50% more likely to follow up on a resume with a “white-sounding” name than an identical resume with a “Black-sounding” name. In New York City, the rate of unemployment for Black men is fully 48%.
Or housing: Black people face the highest levels of racial residential segregation in the world—shunted into neglected neighborhoods lacking decent parks and grocery stores and often with no hospitals at all. Black people, as well as Latinos, who had achieved home-ownership had their roofs snatched from them. They were the ones hit hardest by the sub-prime mortgage crisis after having been targeted disproportionately by predatory lenders—resulting in the greatest loss of wealth to people of color in modern U.S. history.
Or healthcare: Black infants face mortality rates comparable to those in the Third World country of Malaysia, and African-Americans generally are infected by HIV at rates that rival those in sub-Saharan Africa. Overall the disparities in healthcare are so great that one former U.S. Surgeon General recently wrote, “If we had eliminated disparities in health in the last century, there would have been 85,000 fewer black deaths overall in 2000.
Or education: Today the schools are more segregated than they have been since the 1960’s with urban, predominantly Black and Latino schools receiving fewer resources and set up to fail. These schools more and more resemble prisons with metal detectors and kids getting stopped and frisked on their way to class by uniformed police who patrol their halls. Often these schools spend around half as much per pupil as those in the well-to-do suburbs.
Or take imprisonment: The Black population in prison is 900,000 a tenfold increase since 1954!—and the proportion of Black prisoners incarcerated relative to whites has more than doubled in that same period. A recent study pointed out that “a young Black male without a high school degree has a 59 percent chance of being imprisoned before his thirty-fifth birthday.”
On top of all that, and reinforcing it, is an endlessly spouting sewer of racism in the media, culture and politics of this society—racism that takes deadly aim at the dreams and spirit of every African-American child. And who can forget the wave of nooses that sprung up around the country, south andnorth, in the wake of the 2007 struggle in Jena, Louisiana against the prosecution (and persecution) of six Black youth who had fought back against a noose being hung to intimidate them from sitting under a “whites only” tree at school?
All this lay beneath the criminal government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. For reasons directly related to the oppression of Black people throughout the history of this country, and continuing today, African-Americans were disproportionately the ones without the resources to get out of the way of that storm, as well as the ones concentrated in the neighborhoods whose levees had gone unrepaired for years. Far from “mere” incompetence, the government responded with a combination of gun-in-your-face repression and wanton, murderous neglect. People were stuck on rooftops in 100-degree heat for days on end, with nothing to eat or drink. Prisoners were left locked in cells as waters rose to their necks. The protection of private property and social control was placed above human life. The governor of the state ordered cops and soldiers to shoot on sight “looters”—that is, people trying to survive and to help others. On at least one occasion, people trying to escape the worst-hit areas were stopped by police at gunpoint from crossing over to a safer area. When evacuations finally were carried out, they were done with the heartlessness of a cruel plantation owner. Families were separated, with children ripped away from parents. Tens of thousands were scattered all over the country with one-way tickets, sometimes not even told their destinations. Back home, bodies were left floating in water, or lying on sidewalks, underneath debris, decomposing and mangled, for months.
Through it all, politicians and commentators spewed out unrelenting racism. Who can forget Barbara Bush herself, the president’s mother, and her remark in a shelter for refugees from Katrina—some separated from their families and having lost everything, including dear ones—that “[S]o many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”A 10-term Congressman took the prize for declaring, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”Since then, the first…the second…the third anniversary of Katrina passed with many parts of New Orleans still uninhabitable ghost towns. In the mostly Black 9th Ward, blocks of devastated houses have been razed—a vast wasteland now dotted with occasional concrete steps going nowhere. When Black people have fought to stay in the projects which are still habitable, they have been driven out—and when they have protested at City Council, they have been pepper-sprayed and beaten. Oil rigs and tourist areas are long since back up and humming, while rebuilding schools, hospitals, and childcare centers are pushed off the list. Through it all, cops and national guards continue to occupy poor neighborhoods like enemy territory.
Does all this look like a “post-racial” society to you?
The answer is clear. And while more Black people than ever before have been allowed to “make it” into the middle class, two things must be said.
First, even for these people their situation is still tenuous. To take one stark example: In opposition to the widespread notions of the “American dream,” where each successive generation “does better” than the previous one, the majority of the children of middle-class Black families have been cast, by the workings of this system, onto a downwardly mobile path. And every Black person—no matter how high they rise—still faces the insults and the dangers concentrated in the all-too-familiar experience of being stopped for “driving while Black.” As Malcolm X said over 40 years ago, and as is still true today: What do they call somebody Black with a Ph.D.? A “nigger.”
Second, and even more profoundly, for millions and millions of Black people things have gotten WORSE.
It will not help—in fact it will do real harm—to believe in this “post-racial” fantasy, or even the “less ambitious” lie of steady improvement. The cold truth of the oppression of African-American people must be squarely confronted and deeply understood, if it is ever to be transformed.
This country was founded on the twin crimes of the genocidal dispossession of its Native American (Indian) inhabitants, and the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans. But this essential and undeniable truth is constantly suppressed, blurred over, distorted and excused—all too often treated as “ancient history,” if admitted at all. But let’s look at its implications.
Modern capitalism arose in Europe, when the merchant class in the cities—the newly arising capitalists, or bourgeoisie—began to set up workshops in which they exploited peasants who had been driven off their land, as well as others who could not make a living any longer other than by working for, and being exploited by, these capitalists. This was the embryo of the modern proletariat—a class of people who have no means to live except to work for someone else, and that works for wages in processes that require a collectivity of people working together. The early capitalists, like their descendants, would take possession of and sell the goods thus produced, paying the proletarians only enough to live on, and thereby accumulating profit. They did this in competition with other capitalists, and those who could not sell cheaper were driven under; this generated a drive to gain any possible advantage, either through lowering wages and more thoroughly exploiting the proletariat, or through investing in more productive machinery, or both. This twin dynamic of exploitation and competition drove forward the accumulation of capital in a relentless and ever-widening cycle.
| Why Education Is Not the AnswerPeople say: “We need to get educated, that’s the problem. Yes, we don’t get the resources the white schools get. But if our children would only study harder—and if we would do better at turning off the television more often—then they could learn and get ahead.”This mixes up some important truths with some very wrong conclusions. The truth is that this system has consistently denied a good education to Black children and continues to do so today, beginning with the execution of slaves who taught other slaves to read. Today, most African-American children are confined to prison-like inner city schools which get much fewer resources and in which the true history and dynamics of society and the world are covered up, and there is little if any attempt to instill critical or creative thinking. These schools send African-American children the message, in ways spoken and unspoken, that there is no real future for them in this society. And it is a further crime of this system that many Black youth then end up “buying into” the system’s lies that they are inferior, “turn off” to their own potential to learn and, in so doing, turn away from the wider world of knowledge and science.But suppose every single Black child somehow DID get an education that enabled them to think critically and to master the skills involved in different kinds of mental labor. Would millions of today’s poor then be able to get good jobs and climb out of poverty? No. Even if you could somehow eliminate discrimination short of revolution—which in fact cannot be done—so long as the system of capitalism is in effect, people are employed only ifsome capitalist can make money off their employment. By that standard, there is not a “demand” for that many technical jobs and even many of those jobs are being shifted to parts of the world where people are forced to work for even lower wages. The capitalists know this, of course, and that is one big reason that they are NOT providing a good education for the youth in the inner cities in particular—they do not want to raise the expectations of Black people “too high.” They fear a situation in which millions of people have knowledge and skills and therefore expect to get a decent job and a better life, and then are STILL denied—many political operatives of the ruling class recall very well the experience of the 1960s, when Black people’s hopes and expectations were raised, and then largely dashed, and the result was a massive explosion of righteous anger and rebellion among Black people, particularly the youth, and today the ruling class harbors a deep fear that again raising expectations would be far too socially explosive.
There is a further problem still: that unless and until there is a concerted effort, backed up by state power, to actually overcome inequality and white supremacy in every sphere of society, not only will educational systems themselves continue to reinforce this but no amount of education will avail to overcome and eradicate it. Even today, when someone succeeds against all odds in getting a good education, the discrimination remains. Education alone is not sufficient; it will take a revolution, in which the rule of the exploiters and oppressors is broken and state power is put into the hands of the masses, to get rid of the capitalist fetters and to thoroughly uproot the white supremacy it has fed on. A socialist society needs the creative and critical thinking of people throughout society, including those whose creativity and critical thinking has been stifled and suffocated under this oppressive system. One of the key features, and necessities, of this new society will be to encourage and foster this creativity and critical thinking among the people broadly—developing their potential and enabling them to increasingly contribute, in many diverse ways, to the development of society, and the emancipation of humanity, as part of the great collective effort to bring into being a new society, a completely new world, without exploitation or oppression.
As part of building the revolutionary movement, we certainly unite with people’s struggles and efforts to fight against the savage inequalities of today’s education system. And the revolutionary movement itself must educate people in the real history and dynamics of society, in science, and in the scientific method more generally. But education alone, of whatever kind, cannot solve the problem.
Education as “the way out” turns people’s eyes away from the real problem and even leads them to blame themselves when it turns out to be yet another false hope.
But this was not some linear or self-contained process. In fact, capitalism in Europe “took off” with the development of the world market, and that in turn was fed and driven forward by theslave trade. Ships would sail from London and Liverpool, in England, filled with the goods sold by the capitalists. They would unload these goods for sale or trade in the coastal cities of Africa, and fill their holds with human beings who had been captured in raids in the African countryside. They would then take this human cargo to the Americas and the Caribbean, to be sold as slaves. Then the ships would take the sugar, cotton, rice and other goods produced by the slaves in these colonies back to Europe, to be sold for use as raw materials or food. And so on, every day, year in, year out—for centuries. This slave trade and the slave economy that went with it—along with the extermination of the Native peoples of the Americas (the Indians) through deliberate slaughter, disease, and working them to death in silver mines—formed what Karl Marx called the “rosy dawn of the primitive accumulation of capital.”
The crime was enormous. Between 9.4 and 12 million Africans were kidnapped, sold and sent to the Americas as slaves. Over two million more died in the voyage from Africa, and enormous numbers perished in Africa itself, through the slave-taking raids and wars, followed by forced marches in chains to the coastal African cities to feed this market. At least 800,000 more died in the port cities of Africa, locked down in prison (the barracoons) awaiting shipment. Once in the Americas, slaves were sent to “seasoning camps” to “break” them—where an estimated 1/3 of the Africans died in that first hellish year.
Take a few seconds to think about the reality behind those numbers. THOSE WERE HUMAN BEINGS! Numbers alone cannot hope to capture the agony and suffering all this meant for over three centuries; the best these numbers can do is give a sense of the sheer scale and scope of the barbarity. But even today this is very little known, and what went into the foundation of American history is barely taught, if at all, in the schools, or recognized in the media and culture.
Those Africans who survived this hell were then forced to toil as slaves, doing the work to “tame” the Americas—to develop the agriculture that would form the basis for the new European colonies. A respected historian put it this way: “Much of the New World, then, came to resemble the death furnace of the ancient god Moloch—consuming African slaves so increasing numbers of Europeans (and later, white Americans) could consume sugar, coffee, rice, and tobacco.
Within Africa itself, the slave trade caused tremendous distortions in the development of Africa and gave rise to the major African slave-trading states in west Africa, as these states traded slaves to the Europeans for commodities that included guns.
Slavery existed in every part of the world and many societies before the transatlantic slave trade that began in the 1500s—but it had never before been carried out on this scale and with this nearly industrial-style inhumanity. That was the product not of uniquely evil men—but of men who became monsters by serving the demands of a monstrous new system whose only commandment was “Expand or Die.” This slave trade was so integral to the rise of capitalism that the sugar and tea produced by slaves not only turned huge profits, but also served as a very cheap way to feed empty calories and stimulants to severely exploited proletarians in Europe. And the labor organization of the sugar cane fields of Jamaica was adapted to the factory floors of London.
To justify this, the capitalists and slave owners drew on the Bible—which yes, does in fact justify slavery, in both old testament and new—and then later on pseudo-scientific ideologies of racism that claimed that Africans and Native Americans (Indians) were a “lower species,” inherently inferior. The fact that Africans had been kidnaped, tortured, enslaved, killed if they tried to educate themselves, forced to watch as their children or spouses were sold off to other parts of the country, and generally kept in an inferior position—this CRIME by the rulers was pointed to as “proof” that Blacks were inferior. Incredibly enough, these slaves were denounced as “lazy” by the parasitical slave masters whose great wealth the slaves created through their back-breaking labor! These lies served both to “justify” the horrors of slavery and formed a crucial element in the “social glue” that held society together. This pattern, and this lie and its social use, have continued in different forms up to today.
The fact that these supposedly “inherently inferior” people had played a crucial part in building up highly developed societies and cultures in both Africa and the Americas, long before Europeans came to dominate these places, was an “inconvenient truth” written out of the official histories and textbooks. And the fact that all human beings are all one species, with only relatively superficial differences in some characteristics, was also written out, with spurious racist pseudo-science substituted instead—lies that also come up in new forms today.
There was nothing inherent in Europeans that led to capitalism taking root there first—there were a number of areas in the world where capitalism might have taken off slightly earlier or slightly later if things had come together a little differently. But Europe is where capitalism did take off, and the dominance of the capitalist nations of Europe and then the U.S. (and Japan, which developed in a different set of circumstances) over the past five centuries is inconceivable without slavery.
“There Would Be No United States as We Now Know It Today Without Slavery”
Slavery fueled the foundation and rise of not just capitalism in general, but the U.S. in particular. This is not just a “stain” that can eventually be washed, or even scrubbed, away within the confines of this system; it is embedded in the very fabric of this society—indeed, the U.S. Constitution itself legally institutionalized slavery and deemed African-Americans to count as only 3/5 of a white person for census purposes.
In the recently published work, Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, Bob Avakian wrote:
There is a semi-official narrative about the history and the “greatness” of America, which says that this greatness of America lies in the freedom and ingenuity of its people, and above all in a system that gives encouragement and reward to these qualities. Now, in opposition to this semi-official narrative about the greatness of America, the reality is that—to return to one fundamental aspect of all this—slavery has been an indispensable part of the foundation for the “freedom and prosperity” of the USA. The combination of freedom and prosperity is, as we know, still today, and in some ways today more than ever, proclaimed as the unique quality and the special destiny and mission of the United States and its role in the world. And this stands in stark contradiction to the fact that without slavery, none of this—not even the bourgeois-democratic freedoms, let alone the prosperity—would have been possible, not only in the southern United States but in the North as well, in the country as a whole and in its development and emergence as a world economic and military power.
In short: There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth.
Avakian then goes on to discuss and analyze the importance of slavery to the mind-set and outlook of American society, and its political life in particular. To justify slavery and the theft of native lands, the lies and myths we described above were used to deem Black people and Indians as less than human, as social pariahs, or outcasts, not deserving of the “natural rights” due to all white men. The masses of white people of all classes, including the most exploited among them, were appealed to on the basis that by virtue of not being slaves they were in fact part of the master class (whether they actually owned slaves or not).