“No. George Floyd mattered. Black lives matter. And until we can build a movement that can defeat racism and capitalism, until working people of all races unite against capitalists and their repressive apparatus, it is a good thing that bosses, government officials, and the police who protect them are sometimes reminded that black lives matter through a little proletarian fury.
If you care about looting, turn your eyes to the militaries, the police, the pharmaceutical companies, the private equity ghouls, the landlords, the real estate speculators, and the billionaires. And demand that a world once looted from the vast majority be now returned to them.”
Peter Gowan, Jacobin, 05/28/20
Translated by Natalia Faga exclusively for Izquierdaweb
The murder of George Floyd by the police, last May 25th in Minneapolis, has triggered a historical popular rebellion in the heart of the world’s capitalism.
For such a historical outburst to happen, a series of causes and circumstances, that we pretend to analyze throughout this manifesto, must be taking place. Needless to say, this manifesto repudiates the murder of George Floyd, demands justice for him and his family, declares against the curfews and militarization that are spreading throughout the U.S., and pronounces on the need to unite efforts among the movilised youth, the black movement and the working class in order to end, for once and for all, with Donald Trump’s government.
The spark of the rebellion has been the racial murder of George Floyd in the hands of Derek Chauvin and other three policemen as accomplices. Such murder expressed all the national and racial oppression that black communities suffer in the U.S. – a structural element of the main imperialist country.
The U.S. was initially a slave colony of England. After the revolution of independence in 1776, not only did slavery continue but it multiplied until the war of secession, from 1861 to 1865, where the slave states of the South were defeated by the states of the North, which represented capitalist modernity of the –figuratively free – wage labour1.
Slavery was abolished and the national unity of the U.S. was assured, representing a true conquer for the era and even greeted by Karl Marx, who was in charge of the First International.
However, a relentless social and racial discrimination continues till this day. Throughout the 20th century it even reached legal expression in the “Jim Crow Laws”, a legal regime of racial segregation that prevailed in the states of the south of the country.
As a result of that regime, black people were segregated in public transportation and public toilettes, forced to go to special schools and to live in exclusively black neighborhoods (ghettos), and so on; in all, a regime of social and racial segregation (one of its international expressions was the Apartheid regime in South Africa in the second half of last century).
Black people legally remained as a second or third degree “social class” within the North American capitalist regime. This massive injustice led to the historical antiracist struggles in the 60s, which gave rise to thehistorical events that ran across the country: mass mobilizations, theassassinations of Malcom X and Martin Luther King, mobilizations of black men in Washington from all over the United States, repeated communal uprisings, bloody confrontations with the police and the national guard, unpunished killings and massacres, etc., and finally, the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Nevertheless, these harsh struggles didn’t solve the problem of racial segregation. The historical discrimination based on skin color combines with class structure: black people, just for being black, are assigned to the bottom of the class structure in the U.S.; in a country where the gap between rich and poor people, social inequality, is the biggest of the world: “The rapidity with which the pandemic has consumed black communities is shocking, but it also provides an unvarnished look into the dynamics of race and class that existed long before it emerged. The most futile conversation in the U.S. is the argument about whether race or class is the main impediment to African-American social mobility. In reality, they cannot be separated from each other. African-Americans are suffering through this crisis not only because of racism but also because of how racial discrimination has tied them to the bottom of the U.S. class hierarchy.” (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Monthly Review)
Overexploited in every possible way, African-Americans have the lowest paying jobs, the largest ratio of infected and dead people (in terms of their representation in the general population), a life expectancy 30 years lower than white communities in cities like Chicago. And in the american penitentiary system, the largest of the world, black communities are over-represented (a 70% of 2,5 million of its population is black, even when black people represent a 20% of the U.S. population).
“Class and skin color are brought inextricably together, leaving the majority of black people (note that there is a bourgeois fringe in which representatives as Obama, Condolezza Rice, Colin Powel, don’t share the same fate as the vast majorities) in the bottom of a widely stratified social structure.” (Claudio Testa, Las Tres Etapas del Racismo en EEUU, izquierdaweb).
But along with this social and material base, the phenomenon of social and political discrimination appears: when it comes to black people, they are always criminalized. A white person will always be trusted when accusing a black person of anything at all.
The renowned black filmmaker, Spike Lee, has just edited a video in which, along with scenes from his brilliant opera prima “Do the Right Thing”, he displays images of a guard explaining how to walk a dog to a wealthy woman in Central Park, New York, but being thereupon accused to the police of assault.
On the other hand, the imperialist bourgeoisie and the mob-like trade union bureaucracy have been historically working to divide the white working class from the black (and also, latin) workers.
The color of the skin, the historically accumulated prejudice, the make believe that being a poor white man means being “better” than being black, the nourishment of the war of poor people against each other instead of the unity of the ones below against the ones at the top, all of these have been a historic mechanism of class domination in North American imperialism.
And so, skin color, national oppression and class structure have all conspired to keep the exploited and the oppressed of the main capitalist power subdued by means of forcing a double or triple oppression to black people: “The Negroes are not yet awakened and they are not yet united with the white workers. 99.9 percent of the American workers are chauvinists, in relation to the Negroes they are hangmen and they are so also toward the Chinese. It is necessary to teach the American beasts. It is necessary to make them understand that the American state is not their state and that they do not have to be the guardians of this state. Those American workers who say: ‘The Negroes should separate when they so desire and we will defend them against our American police’—those are revolutionists, I have confidence in them.” (Trotsky y la Opresión de los negros en Estados Unidos, izquierda web, 05/31/20)
The previous lines are part of a debate between Trotsky and american trotskyists leaders in the beginnings of 1933, regarding the right of self-determination of black people. Although things have changed, it is still a sharp comment regarding the need for the white working class to consider the black working class as their brothers and sisters – an issue that has moved forward in the last years but still has inertial elements within the most held back workers2.
Why all this explanation (deep down, an anti-capitalist explanation, a condemnation of the oppressive class structure of American capitalism)? So that we can understand everything that was expressed in the knee of that policeman that asphyxiated George Floyd with impunity in Minneapolis on May 25th.
The police brutality expressed in Chauvin’s knee and his accomplices showed us an X-ray -broadcasted through social media along the world- of the sickening and racist American capitalism, and also it unleashed the largest and unprecedented popular rebellion since the 60s; an undoubtedly historic event.
The History of the United States and its social struggles is filled with outbursts of rage against oppression after savage murders on behalf of the white police or fascists groups like the Ku Klux Klan or other fascists or extreme-right organizations.
These outbursts have lasted several days from time to time and in different states. The most recent ones occurred against the murder of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992; probably the first to be recorded and broadcasted almost instantly.
Before King, plenty of this kind of “incidents” occurred with a turning point driven by the struggle of the civil rights movement in the 60s. After King, in the last decades, we witnessed the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement as a result of the brutal events that took place under the first black presidency, Barack Obama’s, that did nothing in terms of racial oppression3.
There has to be some contextual elements to understand the particular (and important without a doubt) circumstances of this outburst, in which Floyd’s murder is the spark.
We could talk about three triggers. The first one is the genocidal way in which Trump is handling the pandemic. The United States have long surpassed the outrageous record of 100,000 deaths, twice as much as the deaths in the Vietnam war. Being the most powerful country in the world, this represents a plea against its unfair social structure.
Needless to say, among these deaths -true murders of the voracious and neoliberal capitalist structure of America where the only thing that matters is profit- there’s a disproportionate number within the black community.
Trump’s fascist denialism is facing a political cost. An important part of the population is starting to take its toll on his rejection on any humanitarian approach to the pandemic that, even with its limits, has been seen in other parts of the world.
Along several advances and setbacks, Trump’s government has revealed itself as one of the most unprepared, anarchic, and inoperative governments regarding the pandemic; a sad worldwide spectacle -a plea against American capitalism.
But along with the humanitarian disaster and the pandemic’s approach exceeded, along with the double standard and vulgarity of this proto-fascist, there’s the second determination: the unleashing of a potential economic depression in the first world power.
Such is the voracity of American capitalism, such is the depth of the prevailing neoliberalism in the last decades, such is the diktat of the “free market”, that all the jobs created since the crisis of 2008 were nothing but precarious employment – a way of disguised unemployment that within a few weeks has already vanished.
Only this can explain that the United States contributes with a substantial share of the world’s layoffs, reaching the monumental figure of 40,000,000 of fired workers in a few months.
Beyond the social darwinism of the American “labor market”, it looks like this mechanism of business protection in the “micro” sphere – to fire workers at the least minimum crisis without any cost – could turn into another way of “macro” anarchy and irrationality, because it cannot be expected (with such social devastation, with crowds and crowds with nothing left to lose but their chains-Marx-) for nothing to happen…
Pandemic and economic catastrophe are the context where George Floyd’s murder acts upon and the explanation for such a multiplying effect. And we must add one more element: Trump’s presidency. An anarchic, polarizing, “politically incorrect” (compared to the usual imperialist centrism), bonapartoid and fascistoid, messy presidency that, even when conveying the interests of certain groups of the dominating class that agree on the attack to social and democratic rights of those below, the attempt to put China in place and discipline other imperialist countries, the undertake of a national-imperialist orientation as an allegedly “salvation” from the decline of the hegemony of American imperialism, it’s a whole different chapter when it comes to the support of the relation of forces.
Despite the colossal complicity of the Democratic Party (even Bernie Sanders, who capitulated to Biden, or the so-called “progresist” congresswomen who condemned “violence in the movilizations”), a true “cemetery of social movements”, the relation of forces worldwide and nationwide don’t appear to tolerate such brutalities.
George Floyd’s murder has become a historic popular rebellion in the heart of world capitalism, given the sum of these catastrophic conditions. When people are attacked and torn off their daily routines, when historic events such as economic depressions, wars and pandemics happen, revolutions can be sown in response.
American multimillionaire bourgeoisie believes it will get off scot-free. Its magnates live in “another world” and believe they can dominate everything by pressing buttons from above. But true history, as Rosa Luxemburg used to say, is created in the depths of social life, in the entrails of society. And when the capitalist class or its governments go too far, as has already happened in the U.S. and worldwide capitalism in the last decades, sooner or later comes the response of class struggle: this is what’s happening today in the U. S.
Let’s focus on the present popular uprising. Certainly, it’s a historic event that shows the huge fighting reserves that existed in the U.S. – even if they were invisibilised during the last decades4.
The American mass movement has an enormous fighting tradition. It is no accident the U. S. harbors traditions such as the Chicago Martyrs; or the International Working Women’s Day since the tragedy of Cotton Textile Factory where 129 workers died under the fire in 1908; or the international shame of the execution of anarchist activists Sacco and Vanzetti (1927); or the reference of Eugene Debs, historical figure of American socialism by the beginning of the 20th century, who ran 5 times for president; or the internationalist revolutionary trade-union tradition of the International Workers of the World, that in the 30s anticipated the creation of branch unions, etcetera.
Even American Trotskyism has left historical traces in the tradition of the workers movement -with the relevance of the historic and combative strikes of Minneapolis Teamsters in the 30s, with elements of self-organization fighting against strikebreakers and the police agent of bosses and State-, and in standing on principle against the imperialist war, etc.5.
This enormous fighting tradition of the working class, the youth, the black movement, the women’s movement and the revolutionary left, converged in the 60s on the fight for civil rights for the black community and in the mass movement against the war in Vietnam, that forced American imperialism to withdraw from Vietnam and to suffer its first military defeat. Also, a historical women’s movement that conquered the right to abortion in the 70s; a gay’s movement tradition with founding events such as Stonewall; the “countercultural movement” of Woodstock and other expressions; the emergence of jazz and rock, etc.
These combative and cultural traditions are the real United States of the exploited and oppressed; the true and hidden history of the country – and not the superficialities Hollywood portrays.
However, after the uprising of the 60s, and the defeat in Vietnam, and Nixon’s resignation, U.S. imperialism assembled its counterattack and consolidated it through the 80s during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Ever since then, such counteroffensive continued, regardless of how democrat or republican were those governments.
The important mobilizations of Seattle in 1999 against capitalist globalization and the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, were counter tendencies; the same as the emergence of movements such as Black Lives Matter, or the 15 dollars an hour minimum wage movement, or Sanders’s campaign despite its limitations, or the multitudinous women’s movement in Washington when the misogynist Trump took over the presidency, and above all, the emergence of a new generation that identifies with “socialism”; all of the above were elements that started to show counter tendencies to the defeats of the previous decades.
Nevertheless, we stand now at what looks like a qualitative and historic event. We need to trace back to the 60s, the last great uprising of class struggle in the U. S., in order to find a revolt similar to what is happening right now, in terms of its militant and combative character.
It’s not ordinary to see tens of cities stand up, day and night, through several days, defying curfews, facing the National Guard, standing in pacific resistance and otherwise, fraternizing in some cases with the police, anyway, multiplying in multitudinous mobilizations in Paris, Berlin, Australia, London, etc., making its way throughout the globe by live streaming, as a global plea on the right to rebel.
It was clear the pandemic couldn’t abolish class struggle. But it was necessary for the popular rebellion to strike in the major country in the world so that there is no room for doubt. Last week, antecedents appeared in Chile, Lebanon, Hong Kong and other countries. But it is obvious the U.S. rebellion is much more: it shows we are living a historical re-start of the experience of the exploited and oppressed; a world cycle of popular rebellions that has never ended; the spring of the exploited and oppressed, that emerged last year, is now here to stay and resurfaces in the main power of the planet.
The mass movement that stands in the U. S. is here to stay. It involves, above all, a huge youth movement -mainly of the youth employed in precarious jobs, which is its majority- and the reemergence of the black movement in all its expressions.
From now on, it’s day by day, minute by minute. The movement has an enormous strength and could become a magnet, as well, for the more structured workers force, depending on how they can free themselves from the straitjacket of trade union bureaucracy, one of the most rotten, powerful, corporate bureaucracies in the world (the bureaucracy of the most important imperialist power).
A movement that shows an increasing radicalization; a blurry anti capitalist sentiment. It shows more combativity than political clarity, though. It is an orphan in terms of political representation; it has to free itself from the expectations of the deceitful traitors of the Democratic Party and build structural ties with the working class; not easy tasks. Neither is the construction of a third workers party, independent from both imperialist parties, along with socialist revolutionary currents that could intervene within it; “small” historical tasks.
Plenty of chapters must be written. A repressive turn on Trump’s behalf cannot be discarded: underestimating Trump would be a serious mistake. Beyond his bravado, the bourgeoisie could be uniting in order to put an end to the movement with an even more reactionary course than the one we’ve seen so far.
But it is also true that the bourgeoisie could be dividing itself, in fear that Trump might ignite a stronger spark, with the acknowledgement of mobilizations that are getting bigger and could radicalize throughout the country, and could even try, in a shy way (never revolutionary, of course), Trump’s impeachment (against what it did not do 6 months ago). But it is difficult to analyze this in the rapid change of movements we are witnessing.
North American working class is a political orphan. Liberal tradition in the country, a pragmatic perspective on things, the assimilation of statism with socialism, the assimilation of any cooperative and collective action with statism, the co-optation of a large aristocracy while being the most powerful imperialist country through decades, they all have hampered the emergence of a mass socialist movement in the U.S.
There’s a beautiful text written by Trotsky by the title “If America should go communist” that deals with these issues. And in spite of being 80 years old, it has a profound relevance in today’s present: “Should America go communist as a result of the difficulties and problems that your capitalist social order is unable to solve, it will discover that communism, far from being an intolerable bureaucratic tyranny and individual regimentation, will be the means of greater individual liberty and shared abundance.”
Nowadays, many Americans believe communism to be the former Soviet Union. They fear sovietism in America would produce the same results as in the culturally backward peoples of the Soviet Union.
“They shudder lest Americans be regimented in their habits of dress and diet, be compelled to subsist on famine rations, be forced to read stereotyped official propaganda in the newspapers, be coerced to serve as rubber stamps for decisions arrived at without their active participation or be required to keep their thoughts to themselves and loudly praise their soviet leaders in public, through fear of imprisonment and exile.”
And after the development of his article, Trotsky concludes by saying the American revolution will be much different from the Russian revolution because it would start from different material conditions, even prophesying that “in the 3rd year of the Soviet rule in America you will no longer chew gum!”
Anyway, as we have been saying, the working class has had a great fighting tradition but it has been politically co-opted by traditional parties, mainly the Democratic Party, where all social movements have converged.
The fear of “orphanhood” or the political “cold” of being left out from a great apparatus as the Democratic Party has led many to capitulate: for instance, many left movements, among which is Sanders, who has disappeared from the political scene after giving his support to Biden and by blindly complying with the rules of imperialist democracy.
The same happens with the congresswomen (house of representatives) of the “democratic” left like Ilhan Omar or Ocasio-Cortez, who have condemned the mobilizations due to their “violence”, or currents like the SDA (Social Democrats of America) that publishes Jacobin and appears to fall behind the development of the events by still debating on leaving the Democratic Party. The growing popular rebellion imposes this long-overdue task!
Along with the present rebellion, it is important to highlight the need for the construction of a third party of workers and socialist revolutionary currents, especially if the process spreads and radicalizes.
The fight for an independent programme is part of the same issue: unconditional defense of mobilization; the rejection of curfews; the demand of the National Guard’s withdrawal and the halt to repression; the punishment for the intellectual and material murderers of George Floyd; the fight for a real programme in order to end discrimination against black people; the position (if the events keep unfolding) of booting Trump out of government by means of the mobilization without waiting for elections, against what the organizers of democrat defeats are now proclaiming; etcetera. These are some of the slogans that must be engraved within the construction of an independent workers party. Also, the creation of self-defense committees and every type of organism and fighting collective that contributes to mobilization, along with the demand for trade unions (along with their overflow) to join the struggle; the stand on a set of demands in order to come together with health care workers; and, in general, against the pandemic barbarism and the economic crisis.
1 George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, “Founding Fathers” of the Republic of the United States, were recognized slavers.
2 In terms of the slogan of self-determination, maybe the black population is now so (unfortunately – BADLY o POORLY (de mala manera) assimilated in the U.S. to be considered an issue. However, the spirit behind Trotsky’s stand is to be highlighted: the importance of breaking down all prejudice of white workers towards black workers; a prejudice that is now stirred by trade union bureaucracy and Trump in order to divide the working class.
3 The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal of the murder of African American teenager Trayvon Martin by gunshot. The organization started to gain national acknowledgement after two African Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, were killed in 2014, triggering riots and turmoil in Ferguson, New York City.
4 It can be highlighted how impressed leftist intellectuals are; how unable they are to appreciate the development that is unravelling from below, just as the ones who in politics are dominated by “weeping impressionism”.
5 Since SWP’s break into the defencists of the former Soviet Union and the anti defencists who were against its unconditional defense, Trotsky aligned himself with the defensists. Both tendencies kept elements of principles, and also, groups that capitulated to both imperialism and stalinism.