by Ellen Isaacs, August 7, 2016
Appeared on Counterpunch, 8/9/16
THE PLATFORM OF THE MOVEMENT FOR BLACK LIVES has been created by a large coalition of black activists and has caused a great deal of discussion and controversy, especially over the criticism of Israel. We admire the detailed way in which the oppression of black people in the U. S. has been catalogued, and note that the authors call for unity with other oppressed people – women, immigrants, gender-different, poor workers, and indigenous peoples. The platform also correctly assesses the ways in which the U. S. attacks and kills workers around the world, from Asia to Africa to South America to the Middle East.
In the introduction, it is acknowledged that the demands are short-term fixes and do not involve the prescription for the type of society that is envisioned. What follows is an extensive list of the injustices and deficits of our society, some that affect primarily black workers and some that affect all workers. The former include discriminatory policing and criminal justice, unequal education and housing and voting rates, to name only a few. Some of the called-for policies that affect all workers include universal health care, free education through college, divestment from fossil fuels, and a cut in military spending.
One reads through the long list of injustices and waits for the description of the non-racist humane society that is the ultimate goal. But this is where the problem lies. The authors want to “remake the U.S. political system” without a discussion of what that system is. The system is not determined by which faces make up the legislative or executive bodies – we already have a black president, and many black mayors and police chiefs. There is not a disconnect between the economic and political system; they are both part of a single system: capitalism. And capitalism needs racism and sexism to function.
The savings in wages and services through super-exploitation of blacks and others is essential to the survival of American capitalists. If wage differentials of black, women and immigrant workers are added up, it comes to several trillion dollars annually (there is lots of debate about exact figures), but whatever the total, it is a significant fraction of the total gross domestic product (GDP) of near $17 trillion. Inferior education, health care and housing not only sap the quality of life but save money, while racist policing strives to vitiate the ability to fight back. Even more importantly, racism keeps the working class divided. If people can be persuaded that those of a different color or religion or national origin are their enemy, they do not unite and struggle together, nor do they understand the true origin of their problems. Please see the many other articles on this blog discussing the need for racism under capitalism and the necessity of multi-racial organizing.
This Platform, however, describes its long-term goal as “independent Black political power and Black self-determination in all areas of society. We envision a remaking of the current U.S. political system in order to create a real democracy where Black people and all marginalized people can effectively exercise full political power.” Among specific demands are an end to money controlling politics and a guaranteed right to vote. But if one understands that the role of the government is to run U.S. capitalism and guarantee its continued existence and world hegemony, then to ask to take the money out of politics is not a logical demand. Making money is what makes capitalism go round, and protecting that process is the role of the politicians. And the right to vote will never mean that an anti-capitalist can be elected. There are differences among the electoral parties over how to run capitalism, but is choosing between them a right we should make a priority? From the imprisonment of Eugene Debs to the assassination of Salvatore Allende, it is clear that opponents of American capitalism cannot be allowed to seriously compete in the electoral arena or be allowed to win.
This belief in bringing an end to racism through the political process also permeates most of the short-term tactics of the platform. Nearly every goal is to be reached through legislative action, be it local or federal. Thus the strategy leans far towards picking candidates and voting, which does not attack the fundamental nature of the system. Worse yet, it creates illusions and influences the way we organize in the wrong direction. If we are thinking about fundamental change, we need to be organizing around demands that build rank and file mass movements, with leadership built from below. We need thousands, even millions, in the street instead of the voting booth. We need soldiers who turn the guns around rather than fight unjust wars. We need leadership that is multiracial, multinational, men and women, with a guarantee of inclusive leadership of our struggles. We need to explain to those who are fighting back that no end to racism or militarism or poverty can be won under this system, but we can win reforms. We have to see them as short-term gains, that may be taken away, but make us stronger by the unity, militancy and skills we learn.