Monday, 19 October 2020

Black anger makes the crumbling pillars of bourgeois and democratic “civilization” tremble

Between 11 and 16 August 1965, an authentic rebellion took place in the black ghetto of Watts in Los Angeles, California. The Afro-American population, already exasperated by widespread poverty and growing unemployment, by constant repression and miserable living conditions, rose up against the umpteenth case of police brutality.  By the end of the revolt 34 deaths were counted, all caused by the forces of "law and order" and the National Guard.  It was one of the most serious episodes, after the one in Harlem in 1943 and before those following the savage beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992. Our party immediately published the following article, which we dedicate to all those proletarians who came out onto the streets and into squares throughout the United States to demonstrate their anger and will to fight back after the murder of George Floyd on 25 May last.  

 

Before international conformity buried the “regrettable” incident under a thick blanket of silence, once the racket of the “black rebellion” in California was over, when the “enlightened” bourgeoisie was anxiously trying to uncover the “mysterious” causes of the hitch in the “peaceful and regular” operation of the democratic mechanism down there, some observers on either side of the Atlantic consoled themselves by recalling that, after all, violent collective outbreaks by “coloureds” are nothing new in America and that, for example, one just as serious – but without consequences - had happened in Detroit in 1943.

But for those who have followed the facts not with cold objectivity but with passion and hope, there has been something profoundly new in this red-hot episode of anger, which comes not only vaguely from the people but from the proletariat. It is something that makes us cry out: The black rebellion has been suppressed: long live the black rebellion! 

The new element – in the history of the fights for emancipation of salaried and underpaid black workers, not of course in the history of the class struggle in general – is the almost inevitable coincidence of the pompous and rhetorical presidential declaration of political and civil rights, and the outbreak of an anonymous, collective, subversive, “uncivil” fury by the beneficiaries of the “magnanimous” gesture; of the umpteenth attempt to win over the martyred slave with a miserable carrot costing nothing, and the instinctive, immediate refusal of the slave to have himself blindfolded and bend his back again.

Rough and uneducated – not by their leaders, the great majority of whom are more Gandhian than Gandhi; not by USSR-style “communism” which, as l’Unità (daily newspaper of the Italian Stalinists) hastened to point out, refuses and condemns the violence – but informed by the harsh practical lesson of social life, the black people of California, without any theoretical knowledge and without needing to express it at length in language but declaring it with their arms and their action, have shouted the pure and simple truth for the whole world to hear, and that is that civil and political equality is nothing as long as economic inequality rules and that this cannot be escaped through laws, decrees, sermons and preaching, but by using force to overturn the bases of a class society.  And this is the brutal rip in the fabric of legal fiction and democratic hypocrisy, which has disconcerted and could not fail to disconcert the bourgeoisie; and this is what has filled us Marxists with enthusiasm and could not fail to do so; this is what must give the weary proletarians food for thought, falsely coddled as they are in the metropolises of a capitalism historically born with a white skin.

When North America, having already set out along the tracks of full capitalism, launched a crusade for the emancipation of the slaves in the South, it did not do so for humanitarian reasons or out of respect for the eternal principles of ’89, but because it was necessary to split up the shackles of a pre-capitalist patriarchal economy and “free” its labour force so that it could offer itself as . huge resource for the greedy monster of Capital. Already before the war of secession, the North was encouraging the escape of slaves from the southern plantations, all too attracted by the dream of a labour force that would place itself on the market at the lowest of prices and which, as well as this direct advantage, would ensure that of containing the already salaried workforce, or at least keep it from increasing.  During and after that war, the process accelerated rapidly and became generalized.

This was a step that was historically necessary to overcome the limits of a highly backward economy; and Marxism acclaimed it, though not because unaware that, when freed from the South, black labour would find a mechanism of exploitation ready and waiting in the North, some aspects of which were even more ferocious. Free the “good nigger” would be, in the words of the Capital, to take his hide to market and have it tanned: free from the chains of southern slavery but also from the protective shield of an economy and a society founded on personal and human relations, rather than  impersonal and inhuman ones; free – i.e alone, i.e. naked, i.e. helpless.

And in fact, the slave who escaped to the North realized he was no less inferior than before; because he was paid less; because he had no professional qualifications; because he was isolated in new ghettos as a soldier in the industrial reserve army and as a potential threat to the connective tissue of the régime of private property and appropriation; because he was segregated and discriminated against as the one who must feel not a person but a beast of labour and as such sell himself to the first offer, asking no more and no better.

Today, a century after this presumed “emancipation”, he finds himself granted “full” civil rights at the same time as his average income proves alarmingly lower than that of his white fellow citizen, his salary is half that of his lighter-skinned brother, his companion’s pay is one third of the salary of a “non-coloured” companion; at the same time as the golden business metropolises shut him into ghettos full of horrifying poverty, disease and vice, hiding him there behind invisible walls of prejudice, customs and police regulations; at the same time as the unemployment that bourgeois hypocrisy calls “technological” (meaning this is “inevitable”, the price that must be paid for progress, of which present society is not guilty) culls most of its victims from amongst the ranks of his brothers of the same race, because these are the ranks of the simple labourer and of the sub-proletarians assigned to the foulest and most exhausting jobs; at the same time as, whilst equal to his white fellow soldier on the battlefields, he is rendered profoundly unequal before the policeman, the judge, the taxman, the factory owner, the Union man and the owner of the hovel he lives in.

 It is also true – and absurd to the bigots – that the blaze of this rebellion has spread in California where the average black salary is higher than in the East; but it is right there in the territory of the capitalist boom and of false proletarian “well-being”, that the inequality of treatment between people with different-coloured skins is strongest; it is right there that the ghetto, already closed along the Atlantic coast, is hastily locking itself before the arrogant ostentation of luxury, lavishness and the dolce vita of the ruling class – which is white!  It is against the hypocrisy of an egalitarianism put down on paper in Jesuit fashion but denied in practice by a society riddled by deep class rifts, that black anger has exploded so potently, not unlike the explosion of anger by the white proletarians attracted to the new industrial centres of advanced capitalism and piled up there, crowded into the slums, confined in the cardboard shacks of this most Christian bourgeois society, and “free” within them to sell its labour, so as…so as not to die of hunger; as the sacred fury of the exploited and – and as though this were not enough, derided - underclasses will always explode!

 “Premeditated rebellion and disrespect for the law, the rights of fellow citizens and the maintenance of law and order!” exclaimed the cardinal of Holy Mother Church McIntyre, as though the new slave-without-shackles had any reason to respect a law that keeps his back and his knee bent, or had ever known – himself the “fellow citizen” of the whites – that he possessed any “rights” or had ever been able to see anything but disorder elevated to the status of a principle, in this society based on the false, three-point slogan of freedom, equality and brotherly love.

 “Rights are not won by violence,” shouted Johnson.  A lie.  Black people remember, even if only because they have heard about it, that a long war was the price white people paid for the rights they had been denied by the English metropolis; they know that a longer war brought both white and black people, temporarily united, a flimsy “emancipation” that still today remains inconsistent and remote; they see and hear every day how chauvinist rhetoric celebrates the extermination of the red-skinned people contrasting the march of the founding fathers towards new lands and “rights”, and the crude brutality of the pioneers of the West “redeemed” by the cult of the Bible and Alcohol; what was this, if not violence?  Obscurely, they have realized that there is no deadlock in American history, as in all countries, that has not been broken by force; that there is no right that is not the result of a clash, often a bloody one and always violent, between the forces of the past and those of the future.  What have a hundred years of waiting for the magnanimous concessions of the white people brought, apart from the little that an occasional outbreak of anger has been able to wrench, even using fear alone, from the mean and cowardly hand of the boss?  And what was the reply of Governor Brown, defender of the rights the white people felt were threatened by the “revolt”, if not the democratic violence of the machine guns, truncheons, tanks and siege?

And what is this, if not the experience of the oppressed classes under any sky, whatever the colour of their skin and of whatever “racial” origin?  The black rebel, whether pure proletarian or sub-proletarian, who shouted in Los Angeles, “Our war is here, not in Vietnam,” was formulating a concept no different to that of those who “stormed the heavens” in the Paris Commune and Petrograd, the destroyers of the myths of order, national interest, wars of civilization, and the proclaimers of a finally human civilization.

The bourgeoisie should not console itself by thinking: “a far-off episode that doesn’t affect us – here the matter of race is not an issue.”  The issue of race is a social matter, in an increasingly clearer form today. Should the unemployed or under-employed in Italy’s lacerated South no longer have to resort to the outlet of emigration; should they no longer have to rush to let themselves be flayed alive across the sacred borders (or let themselves be killed in tragedies that are not caused by fatalities, the sudden whims of the atmosphere or perhaps by the evil eye, but by Capital’s thirst for profit and anxiety to save on the cost of materials, accommodation, means of transport, safety equipment, in order to ensure a higher margin of unpaid labour and perhaps profit from the reconstruction that follows the inevitable, anything but unpredictable and always hypocritically lamented disasters); should the slums of our manufacturing cities and moral capitals (!!) overflow, more than they already are overflowing, with unemployed outcasts without food or reserves: then you will have an “Italic” (or French, or German) racism, already visible now in the lamentations over the “barbarian” and “uncivil” terroni, as in Northern Italy Southerners are scornfully called.

It is the social structure in which we are condemned to live today that brings to life these infamies; it will disappear under the ruins of it.  This is what the forgetful, dozing in the illusory sleep of well-being and drugged by the opium of democracy and reform, are warned of and reminded of by the “black rebellion” of California – not remote, not exotic, but present amongst us; immature and defeated but the messenger of victory!

(from “il programma comunista”, n.15/1965)

Il Programma Comunista

Kommunistisches Programm

The internationalist

Informativa 

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