US: The Racist Murder of Michael Brown
While the American empire stalks the globe devastating all in its path the brutality of its reign is evident also on the streets of American cities. The murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen in the small town of Ferguson, makes him the latest innocent victim of this poisonous racist State and what has been called ‘The New Jim Crow’. This brutal slaying is not an aberration, it is the latest in a long line of police murders, a routine occurrence that is part of the daily business of police repression and the bitter routine of racist attacks on largely working class African Americans.
This routine of police murder is evidence of the inability of a corrupt imperialist state, busy equipping police forces with military equipment to confront its poor and oppressed, to extend even the most basic of democratic rights to all its citizens. The promise of the Civil Rights movement, of equality under capitalism, could have only ever benefited the well-to-do minority of the African American community, but even the movement towards fair treatment for the Black middle class has been grudging and partial. Black people are routinely regarded as suspect irrespective of their social class. The remaining illusions of the civil rights era of ‘equality’ under the iniquitous and exploitative capitalist system are being exposed.
Police brutality is an everyday element in US society. What is new is the growing tendency to militarize every-day police actions and to use force without the slightest reason, in the absence of resistance or where a worker simply questions the police use of their powers. The explanation for the new steps towards an open police state is based in the long-term decline of US imperialism. Where its economy would once have ensured its dominance it now relies greatly on gunboat diplomacy, war, and the abolition of any restraint either in attacks on civilian populations or the routine use of torture.
The necessity for force abroad is mirrored by the need for force at home. The wages of US workers have been declining since the 1970s. Their savings have been wiped out in a series of financial crises and savage exploitation following the 2009 financial collapse has seen wages and conditions fall to the point that the lowest pay rates no longer guarantee survival and holding down two or three jobs is common. State repression is increasing every-where, with a strategy of dividing the working class by focusing the most blatant attacks on the black and Latino communities.
Central to the growing misery was the fact that historically racism extended into the aristocracy of labour and the trade union bosses who sat silent as discrimination and segregation flourished. Today this is also a question of working class leadership. The entire labour leadership has abrogated its responsibilities. It is left to individuals and communities to organise themselves each time a fresh atrocity is committed. Like the failure to defend the working class in general, the absence of any action over racist police killings by the Trade Union leadership is criminal. Instead the AFL CIO produced a brief anodyne statement, promised to fund a scholarship and proposed a ‘National Symposium’. Unwilling and uninterested in building their own party, they have looked to the Democratic party to provide reform.
The trade unions found themselves joined by the black middle class, who adopted a strategy of lobbying the Democrats to protect their own interests.
The union strategy has led to the renegotiation of contracts that literally cut in half the wages and conditions of workers. The civil rights strategy led to the elevation of leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson and the election of Obama as president.
A new reality has arisen in Ferguson. Black workers are standing up to the cops. They reject the black Democrats, including Obama, who do not defend them and in fact call for support for their oppressors. The movement has linked up with resistance movements across the globe.
The civil rights legacy has ended in failure. Ferguson can be the starting point of a new revival where the struggle is focussed on the organized working class and the possibility of a socialist alternative is put forward.
The civil rights legacy is far from a uniquely American phenomenon. It resembles closely the process of political decay in the north of Ireland where the petty bourgeois politics of the civil rights movement have not been transcended. The mass movement of opposition that rose in the 1960’s became replaced first by a militarist struggle that replaced mass resistance with a low level military campaign and then demobilised to replace it with a pacification process that absorbed the leadership of the struggle into the state apparatus. The reformist politics of these movements have ultimately failed and the chickens are coming home to roost.
The state response to demobilisation and defeat has been an increasing arrogance typified by the case of Robert Hamill. While police sat and watched, Robert was kicked to death yet the Loyalist killers escaped conviction due to ‘insufficient evidence’ to prosecute them. There is a complete refusal to address historic crimes and atrocities by state forces and their agents while the creeping reinstatement of the repressive conditions that existed prior to the mass revolt of the sixties continues.
The all important housing issue has come to the fore once again with the proposed destruction of the housing executive and selective internment has been utilized against the small republican movement.
The absorbing of the respectable middle class leadership of the African American community into the state apparatus has done no more for working class African Americans than Sinn Fein’s inclusion in the corridors of power has done for the nationalist working class. The liberty to imprison people on ridiculous trumped up charges, to continue to cover up state collusion in Loyalist murders has been retained by the new ‘reformed’ or ‘reforming’ state. The US like the British state has ‘managed’ the issue, isolated the resistance to their reactionary rule and now are at liberty to scapegoat and punish the minority with impunity.
In the US the response by ordinary people has been magnificent however and the intervention by Obama and the de-escalation of the police assault in Ferguson is designed to defuse what has the potential to become an ongoing and national revolt. Al Sharpton participates in this attempt to diffuse the situation by attacking the working class people who won’t play the constitutional game, preferring instead to take to the streets in dignified protest. Instead, in a tactic familiar to anti imperialists in the North of Ireland, the promise of an investigation is held out and the protests are demobilised on the streets while a whitewash which always fails to produce even the vaguest semblance of justice is organised at official level.
The existing leadership of working class
organisations are making themselves irrelevant in the struggles of working
people they must be pushed aside and our labour organisations won to struggle.
The nascent new resistance needs a new revolutionary leadership.