The decrepit racial capitalist order appears to be unraveling under the weight of coronavirus, economic depression, and a quantitative leap in people’s willingness to confront power through the politics of the street.
The scope and intensity of the convulsion that has shaken the United States since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, is breathtaking. Hundreds of thousands of people of all ethnicities have participated in actions ranging from silent vigils to pitched battles with police in at least 140 cities, by the New York Times’ estimate – or nearly 500 localities nationwide, according to a marvelously detailed Wikipedia page. The National Guard has been called out in 26 states and Washington, DC, and U.S. Army units, including a battalion of paratroopers from the 82nd airborne division, await deployment to cities by the self-proclaimed “law and order president,” Donald Trump.
There has been nothing approaching this level of unrest since April, 1968, when 100 cities burned in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Back then, the U.S. corporate order responded to the challenge from below with massive expansion and militarization of local police forces, intensive secret police operations to eradicate Black and radical movements, and a policy of mass Black incarceration that, over the past half century, has boosted the national prison population from less than 200,000 in 1970, to 2.2 million, today – an 11-fold increase. With nearly equal zeal, the corporate order embraced a newly emergent Black political class, hungry for public office and private contracts, as a counterweight to the grassroots movements that had put revolution on the lips of millions of young people.
Hundreds of thousands of people of all ethnicities have participated in actions ranging from silent vigils to pitched battles with police in at least 140 cities.
A comparative analysis of the political economy of the Sixties versus the current era could easily stretch to book length, but four main factors combined to bring us the events of the past week:
- the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed Blacks at between 2.6 and 4 times the rate of whites, ghoulishly accentuating the deadly nature of a late stage racial capitalist system that, after 40 years of endless austerity and war has stripped the nation of even a semblance of a public health care system;
- the resulting economic shutdown that, in the bat of an eye, brought about Great Depression rates of unemployment and heart-stopping levels of general precarity, maddeningly combined with record-breaking highs on the stock exchanges and grotesque, near-instantaneous multi-billion dollar windfalls for the owners of Amazon, Google, Facebook and other oligarchs, while corporations received the bulk of trillions in federal disaster relief monies;
- for the past four years the ruling class has been split, warring against itself and, in the process, creating an ongoing crisis of legitimacy for the U.S. regime. This has given the crisis a special and distinct character, in that elements of the ruling class and its media have given tacit moral support to at least some of the protesters in hopes of framing the unrest as the fault of their arch-rival, Donald Trump;
- the Bernie Sanders presidential phenomenon, recently extinguished by corporate Democrats and their media allies, raised expectations among tens of millions of youth of all races that meaningful change – even some kind of “socialism” -- was possible under the current order. With Sanders’ abdication, his supporters have been forced to accept that they can’t simply vote their way out of the contradictions of racial, late stage capitalism. They took to the streets in astounding numbers, in many instances outnumbering non-white protesters, providing a degree of white skin protection to darker activists in confrontations with police.
The video-taped killing of George Floyd, as horrifically cruel and sadistic as it was, is not a special factor in the past week’s events, because the essence of Black folks’ grievance is that murders such as this happen all the time at the hands of police in the United States. However, the national mega-mobilization in Mr. Floyd’s name was a quintessentially wired 21st century phenomenon. Back in 1968, it took the assassination of the most important Black leader of his time to bring about a few days of general Black urban rebellion. This time around, an activist confronting Los Angeles police knew in real-time that people just like her were facing off the cops a continent away, in New York. (To complete the updated picture, the secret police were simultaneously compiling and sharing data on all of them.)
The Black Misleadership Class was in its infancy in 1968, having at that time elected only one Black big city mayor, Carl Stokes of Cleveland. But by 2020 the Black misleaders were manifestly complicit in a whole host of crimes against Black America, having managed the workings of the Mass Black Incarceration Regime in most of the big cities and presided over the gentrification of urban centers under the guise of “renaissance.” Atlanta’s young Black mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms sounded just like one of Malcolm X’s house Negroes as she berated protesters for fighting her police and defiling the property once owned by one of her favorite rich white men. “Ted Turner started CNN in Atlanta 40 years ago because he believed in who we are as a city,” said Auntie Lance Bottoms, who evidently believes that CNN’s corporate brand of reporting is the gospel truth. “They are telling our stories, and you are disgracing their building…. Go home.”
Like other misleaders, the Mayor measures Black progress by how the system has treated her small, grasping and self-centered class – not by what happens to the likes of George Floyd. “So if you love this city,” she told the ungrateful hordes at the gate, “this city that has had a legacy of black mayors and black police chiefs and people who care about this city, where more than 50% of the business owners in metro Atlanta are minority business owners – if you care about this city, then go home.”
Ironically, Black servants of capital, like all of Atlanta’s mayors since Maynard Jackson won city hall in 1973, have no problem inviting whites with money to replace their own Black constituents in “renaissance” neighborhoods, but become fierce Black nationalists when whites join Black-led protests against the institutions that buttress racial capitalism. The Black Misleadership Class’s identification with Power has become all but complete. As embedded tools of the oligarchy, they view any attack on the system as an assault against themselves and their status in the hierarchy. They are right; they should be treated as the enemy.
In this new phase of struggle, we see that there are plenty of non-Blacks that are quite willing to accept Black leadership – the signs they carry and the demands they shout in protests across the country are Black-vetted and correct. But the Black Misleadership Class – the enemy within – insists that they are our rightful leaders, when in fact their allegiance is to the ruling class: the Lords of Capital, like Ted Turner.
When things seem like they’re coming apart, we need to ask: for whom? it may be that things are finally coming together.
All power to the people!