The current status of the movement in the US against police violence and systemic racism

Rome, July 19th, 2020.

Italian Original writing

In July, the generalized movement against police violence and systemic racism lost its intensity. More than a month and a half has passed since this mass movement spontaneously exploded following the assassination of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. As we write, it is still to be noted that in many cities the desire to fight continues in some sectors , because, the whole movement is aware that it has not achieved its objectives and in some respects, most of the colored and white young people who animated it do not want to continue living as before.    During the day of July 4th in New York, Seattle, Baltimore, Washington, Saint Louis, Minneapolis, on the west coast, and at Mount Rushmore there were strong protests against racism to emphasize that the United States of America was founded on the savage colonialism, slavery and oppression and exploitation, characteristics that have pervaded the foundation and development of American society today. In Baltimore, the statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus was thrown down in the “little Italy” neighborhood. Meanwhile in New York, and in many other cities and popular neighborhoods inhabited mainly by African Americans and Hispanics, there are widespread mass protests and pickets against evictions. In short, while we are witnessing a “setback”, we wonder what is smoldering under the embers of the social revolt.

An unprecedented movement

   The struggle of the African American people against racism and for civil rights has always been present in the history of the United States of America, and has sometimes been intertwined with the same movement of the international labor movement (especially in Alabama where black laborers ardently adhered to the Communist Party of America in the 1920s) or alongside the peoples oppressed by imperialism (as during the Vietnam War). Today, however, it takes on unexpected connotations. We are faced with an unprecedented movement of the African-American masses projected towards a new phase of the social class clash in the USA and at an international level far deeper than what today’s premises allow us to imagine.

   This movement is not the re-edition in modern times of the previous movements of struggle for civil rights, a struggle to obtain a just reparation for the wrongs and for a more balanced opportunity for social redemption even for blacks, who gave themselves in the era in which capitalist accumulation could include, albeit in an unequal and conflicting way, parts of African Americans as well as large sectors of white workers and proletarians. Nor is it the simple re-edition of the resurgent “Black Lives Matters” of a few years ago that exploded against police violence during the Obama presidency.       

Today it does not limit itself to denouncing the racism of the police by demanding reform as in the past. In fact, the movement explodes verifying that the police reforms have not only failed, but that they have actually worsened the situation by increasing the pervasion of military control in the colored neighborhoods, where social services have been gradually restructured and entrusted to the police departments. In essence, the hopes and possibilities for inclusion that animated black civil rights struggles have not only failed, but violence, exploitation and racism have increased. Police reform is no longer claimed as in 2014 and 2015, but it is banned by recognizing its classist and oppressive character as an armed wing of the state against African Americans and in defense of private property. The litany of removing “bad apples” from the basket is making less and less break through. Conversely, the movement claims the dismantling of the police from working class and proletarian neighborhoods and from the ranks of trade union organizations through a simple claim: zero dollar budget for the police, because security, true social security needs more, needs a different model of society.

   In essence, the movement made it clear that if the police are racist and un-reformable, this depends because it is the whole society, it is the set of social and economic relations that are racist: it is the “systemic racism” that must be fought and that requires a profound social and economic upheaval. The squares of the United States in revolt have clarified this message through explicit behavior during the days of struggle, for example by militantly rewriting the whole of American history from the perspective of the oppressed.

One of these behaviors is given by the iconoclasm of the mass movement, which demolishes the statues of the Confederate “heroes”, those of Christopher Columbus up to the founding fathers of the American Revolution, while young people of all colors cheer and cheer in the square. It may seem like a useless mass hysteria. Conversely, the message that emerges is clear: this modern society emerged from the ashes of the old precisely through violence, expropriation, colonialism, slavery and oppression of the “colored” peoples of Africa, the Americas and the Asia. The new society, the modern bourgeois and capitalist society was able to give itself, grow, to extend precisely by virtue of this slavery which today continues through modern forms of racial segregation and through the neocolonialism of the most advanced capitalist states against entire “colored” peoples of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. Message well understood and collected overseas in the former colonial countries of Europe by those young third and fourth generation immigrants or descendants of those same slaves who today live “included” in European societies, but largely as exploited citizens of second class. In Belgium the statues of the kings of Belgium were smeared, in England they went further without sparing Winston Churchill. The alarmed “Economist” writes on its pages that this movement nails democratic enlightenment liberalism to the corner of its failure.

   But the new features compared to the past they do not stop there. This fight against systemic racism is linked to another aspect of the contradiction that the general and global crisis of capitalism and the pandemic of covid-19 have forcefully brought out and which feed the radicalism of this movement. The economic crisis and the pandemic hit above all the colored proletarians. The need not to interrupt the accumulation of value and profit, which cannot allow the pandemic to be “contained”, therefore necessarily contradicts the need to protect the health of the social community; African Americans, Latinos and immigrants are all forced to work, whatever the cost, and the coronavirus acts as a reaper especially in neighborhoods where the poor and exploited of color live.

   So much so that this movement is nothing other than the initial and widespread struggles of essential workers against Covid-19 and the effects of the pandemic in the months of March, April and May. From the workers of the new logistics factories, to those in hospitals, to the masses of proletarians enslaved in the modern chains of distribution and circulation of goods and things, to those of agro-business production and the industrial chain of livestock and meat slaughtering emerged strongly the message that either you fight in defense of health against the primacy of profit, or you get sick and die (which in the United States also means starvation since for these workers there is no coverage in terms of health insurance and the sick leave is not paid).

   The virus is natural but it is produced by man’s relationship with the means of production. It is the result of the capitalist mode of production, whose plunder of the macro and micro biological world, operated by its frenzied intensive agricultural production and intensive farming, increasingly destroys natural barriers and biodiversity causing the consequent spread of lethal viruses capable of make the leap of species, to man and from man to man. As a product of capitalism, disease – that is, the social cost of wealth accumulated in the hands of a few – spreads among men and women along the same lines of social classes and races. The cases of Covid-19 and deaths among African Americans and Hispanics and immigrants in the large cities of the east coast reach 64% of the total cases [from the Washington Post July 16th 2020].

   The virus has burst the purulent bubble, aligning consistent parts of social classes and the “indistinct people” in an opposing way on what to give priority: the safeguarding of public health or the safeguarding of production and reproduction of value and profit. The effects of the pandemic have exposed a general social and economic system based on class, racial and gender injustice (of women, gays, lesbians and transgenders).

   In a recent study by the Financial Times [July 7th 2020] it emerged that in the USA and Great Britain in the last three years the number of employed in large industry has decreased by 26%, while in the Logistics sectors the number of employed has increased in the same period 141%. In absolute terms, the number of employees in industry remains ten times higher than that of Logistics. But the young proletarians – who only have a secondary school qualification – find employment in these sectors, where hourly wages are decidedly lower, contractual regulations do not exist and which do not provide for health insurance and paid sick leave.

   If in the 1950s and 1960s the young proletarians who had graduated from high school found employment in the factories of Ford or Caterpillar, today they find an employment opportunity above all in the mega warehouses and factories of Logistics. Here the hourly wage is generally on average 30% lower than that of the traditional factory worker. But even in large industry, the gap between the hourly wages of young workers and those over 12 years old has increased considerably. The chances of wage improvement over the years in the new logistics factories are however slim, while young workers at FCA, Ford and GM can hope to improve after 12 years of seniority (as long as capital accumulation holds and expands). The Financial Times also reports that today in the United States 44% of workers (about 53 million) earn on average hourly wages of around $10.22 per hour, or about $18,000 a year. Here, during the months of the coronavirus, in a few weeks the number of those registered on unemployment and benefits lists reached 47 million.

Many workers close to the conditions of the typical middle class have also resorted to the unemployment lists, seen immediately plunging into the abyss, being part of those social sectors heavily indebted (personal debts for consumption, or for the payment of mortgages or rents), whose job loss or “furlough” (forced unpaid leave from work) made him suddenly lose all the acquired “certainties” of the past.    The bulk of unemployment, in any case, was concentrated above all among the proletarians with low to medium hourly wages and among those with zero-hour contracts. 37% of the new unemployed in the March-April-May period involved proletarians with average hourly wages of around $15, while only 10% of the new unemployed are workers with hourly wages of around $35. There’s more. Unemployment has mainly affected young people. More than 10 million of the newly unemployed are under the age of 34, while more than 5 million are under the age of 24. In other words, the crisis has affected the young proletariat without reserves or rights, that of the generations of the so-called millennials and generation Z and obviously in proportion it has affected more blacks, Hispanics, Asians and then whites.

The unemployment quotas immediately partially reabsorbed with the reopening of June, mainly occurred in the productive sectors that provide for the lowest wages, while many jobs in some traditional sectors of industry and mining, whose crisis was pre-existing coronavirus, seem permanently lost.

So the pandemic has accelerated and exposed a process of socio-structural polarization already underway for more than a decade, which up to now obamism and trumpism had managed to keep hidden under the carpet.

   Therefore, it is not surprising that the movement against systemic racism in recent weeks offers the unprecedented expression of a movement essentially animated by this crisis-stricken African-American youth proletariat, while the crisis of capitalism pushes increasing shares of without reserves white youth proletariat. to go down unconditionally (and without contesting the direction of the struggle regarding objectives, methods and political claims) alongside their black brothers, who, precisely for this reason, recognize that they are a part of the whole movement. A movement that has also consolidated unity with the exploited Latinos and immigrants and all those who fight against a system based on racism of class, race and gender.

Another unprecedented aspect that breaks through the chronic racism and sentiment of opposition not only of “whites” against “blacks”, but also of the latter against Hispanics and immigrants, like the other side of the sharpened and fierce capitalist competition to all levels that also involve the proletariat.

The composition and the strengths of the movement

So what is the composition of this movement? Its militant backbone and its energies come precisely from this over-exploited proletarian world of U.S. society which already during the months of March and April had given signs of reactivity for the defense of the health of workers against the indispensable necessities of profit. The objective intertwining of these two aspects leads to the emergence in the struggle that racism and class oppression are two sides of the same coin.

   Even in the forms of struggle we have seen unprecedented practices. The call for a police ban has traveled not only through the strong conflict drive in demanding that various municipalities cut funding for police department budgets. But it is also “traveled” through social practices from the bottom of this instance. The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) or Capitol Hill Organized Protests (CHOP) – especially the one in Seattle – did not arise as a politically decided action by the leadership of the movement. These were produced by the struggle almost by spontaneous motion. In Seattle, after consecutive days of street demonstrations by day and night street battles against the police forces and the imposed curfew, once the police cordons had to withdraw, the occupation of an entire area of ​​the city came by itself. Immediately after the retreat of the state troops and police forces, the movement erected the barricades, transforming the area into a self-organized zone and off-limit to the access of cops, the police district confiscated and padlocked. This is how the Seattle CHOP was born.    

After Seattle, other cities like Portland (where we have reached 53 consecutive days of protests and street battles), Washington, Saint Louise, New York and Lousiville have tried, but with less success, the same strategy. This Seattle “episode” and its dangerous “fascination” was immediately considered alarming and was judged as an “act of domestic terrorism” by the federal government, to be crushed immediately with the utmost determination and violence.

Another episode will remain in the history of the struggle of African Americans. For the first time in American history, Juneteenth (June 19, a date that African Americans celebrate as the moment of the end of slavery) has become as memorable as May 1st of international workers’ struggle. From a date celebrated only privately by African American families, it has become a day of national struggle characterized by renewed general and spontaneous strikes in the places of the modern GIG economy, in the new Logistics factories, in the distribution and privatized healthcare, in public transport, in agro-industry and industrial slaughtering plants, up to including traditional sectors of the working class itself. And on that day, an entire category of workers, the Union of port workers from all over the west coast, proclaimed a general strike against racism and against the presence of the police in the unions, which saw 30,000 workers joined the strike and thousands of workers marched in Oakland.

Movement as an effect of social polarization and the capitalism reaction

This general movement against system racism is a prelude to the generalized resurgence of class antagonism, which is causing deep landslides in American society, with sure profound repercussions on a global level (just as the crisis is global, the pandemic is global too, the antagonism will make its way internationally). Capable of producing deep and dangerous creaks in the superstructure of the state, clearly audible and visible on social media. From cops kneeling in front of protesters, to the Pentagon chief excommunicating Trump calling for the federal army to be deployed on the streets, to the National Guard command line that escapes federal command. The most significant image is a photo of Minneapolis: the huge procession parades under the bridges of the highway; over the bridge there is the National Guard arms in hand, but a soldier raises his fist and greets the procession that flows below him!

In these fifteen years the forces of capital have succeeded in delaying maneuvers of the social crisis through the resurgence of the discharge of the economic crisis onto the shoulders of the rest of the world – starting with the countries dominated by imperialism and their exploited masses – as well as in an acute competition between capitalist states has produced profound landslides in the relations between the different classes, producing the rush by a growing number of middle classes, petty bourgeois and proletarians to seek refuge under the protective wing of capital and for its more fierce in the global competition of all against all.

   The proletariat, as a class of capital, considers the defense of its conditions dependent on the capacity of its capital to strengthen its reproduction of value. The “sovereignty” of all kind, from the United States – the so-called Trumpism – (as well as in Europe), which until yesterday were able to achieve without too many obstacles the unity of the “working people” (from the small agricultural owner to the ‘worker of General Motor) under the banner of the fight against globalization and for the support of a nationalist project, today he has to deal with the acceleration of this economic and pandemic crisis, which shuffles all the cards and calls everyone into question the previously temporarily consolidated equilibrium between classes.

   The result is precisely this extraordinary movement of struggle of blacks, whites and colored that deepens the fault lines that the crisis was already drawing towards this neo-populism. Attention, this does not mean that white, black or red-brown “sovereignty” has reached its end in the USA. But it is the ongoing social polarization, accelerated by the pandemic, which breaks down and disrupts “sovereignty” at every latitude. The indistinct “Trumpist” people in the US can no longer be represented with the policies of yesterday, and the white and popular “sovereignty” to assert itself today requires a greater frontal confrontation of one part of this “people” against another part “of the people ”, greater aggression and violence against the exploited who intend to resist, before even appearing as a political option.

Already in the weeks preceding the murder of George Floyd, while the state was experiencing profound constitutional conflicts between the prerogatives of the central federal state and those of the governors of the individual states to decide the lockdown, we have seen frequent demonstrations by “whites” against the governors in favor of quarantine. These demonstrations then turned against the struggles of hospital workers and all those who supported the defense of health and therefore in favor of lockdowns. Social sectors of the middle class, petty bourgeoisie, but also of some sector of white workers in the loss of guarantees and certainties, have been ferociously agitated against anyone who dared to damage their “free will” that is, against anyone who gave priority to the defense of health over the private accumulation and reproduction of profit. These social sectors on the occasion of May 1st went to face-to-face the pickets and protests of hospital workers who in large numbers are African Americans. In essence, the defense of their free will was expressed with all the characteristics of that white and class supremacy capable of exercising and strengthening the domination of production for the accumulation and private appropriation of value against the defense of the “health of the social community”. It is a violence and aggression that in these days is manifested in everyday life: there are repeated episodes of whites of different ages and sexes who cough in the faces of families or children only because of the Latin American appearance; episodes of assault on shop assistants who ask to wear masks; even to gestures of brave, even 1 against 100, by white provocateurs during the demonstrations and protest actions of the anti-racist movement.

   Faced with the inability of the central state to command and guide the violent repression of the protests and of the anti-racism movement, social polarization is giving rise to a new spontaneous “white squadism” that marks a discontinuity with the classic supremacist and Christian organizations of the whites or the Ku Klux Klan. Today the new white supremacists, young 20-year-olds called BOOGALOO BOYS, define themselves as “patriots”: only partially or to a limited extent they refer to the set of values ​​typical of Christian organizations, they are not necessarily against black and colored races, they do not like the curfew of the cities, but it is against those who do not submit to all the social relations and domination of capital that weaken the nation.

   Faced with the defections of the police and the National Guard which obstructed the sudden and decisive armed repression of the demonstrations invoked by the central command of the Federal State, an increasing number of armed squad-type attacks were carried out against the marches and squares occupations . The Seattle “CHOP” was subjected to repeated armed attacks in the last days of June and at least 4 young African Americans were killed and two wounded. The same thing happened in Louisville. The American and European press have described these events as “shootings”, describing them according to the typical cheap racist sociology. If racism forces exploited African American communities into social degradation, this also produces widespread petty crime which often translates into violence by blacks against blacks, by the poor against the poorest (which is certainly true). If civil society is not protected by the police, then according to this sociology, gangs take over from black communities in turmoil. So who shot from where and against whom? Who is the offended and who is the aggressor? Do you see that the class police cannot be abolished otherwise the anarchism of petty crime dominates to the detriment of the colored communities?

   Other than gangs and petty crime, these events foreshadow scenarios of civil war and armed conflict between decidedly opposing class fronts on the horizon.

The movement at present

In this brazier, the movement today pays for its difficulties which are essentially attributable to the general balance of power in American society and internationally. The great demonstrations of support and solidarity (especially those of the Anglo-Saxon and neo-colonial countries, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, South Africa and Brazil) only partially represented the possibility of an international extension of the struggle. Internally, the first very important demonstrations of the factory proletariat, such as the general strike of the dockers and the west coast in June or of the public transport workers of Los Angeles in Washington, do not yet represent a general who took the field of the factory proletariat. In the factories of the FCA in Detroit spontaneous strikes and committees of workers (Rank and Files) arise for the defense of health. But still this does not involve the whole body of factories and the auto industry, this old labor movement is still watching, hoping not to be forced to take the field.

   In any case, the movement’s determination and its objective link with a growing number of spontaneous strikes against racism and in defense of health, has so far allowed it to contrast blow for blow to the repression of the state by strengthening its unity of purpose among blacks, whites and browns. This has also made it possible to put in evident difficulty the repressive apparatus of the state, where the curfew, the violence of the police, the use of the National Guard, that of the FBI and the thousands of arrests (whose young people incarcerated are charged with crimes that provide sentences ranging from 20 years up to life imprisonment) failed to stifle the struggle movement.

But it is one thing to respond to the legal repression of the state, it is quite different to respond to the “illegal” repression of the insurgent social forces which would require an adequate and coherent response in terms of militant self-defense against squadron violence.

   Alongside this there is another decisive objective factor that weighs on the struggle. This movement is not only confronted with systemic racism and repression, it is also confronted with the global pandemic. Keeping the square and the streets consecutively for over a month, while there is a dizzying increase in the epidemic, at the rate of 60,000 and more infected every day, is not a joke, all this materialistically weighs on the field of power relations.

   In the meantime, the movement has directed the struggle on the objectives deemed achievablefaster, and now considered possible precisely because of the unprecedented unity between exploited of all colors.

It was believed that the force expressed in the square could act as a shock wave such as to shake the democratic alliance, the mayors and the city councils of the states and cities and obtain the start of a radical systemic reform in a democratic and anti-racist sense that could affect the existence of the police as an institution. This attitude is not only the child of the democratic illusions – which exist – on the possibility of reforming capitalism, but it is also perceived as a necessity in the face of the overlying balance of forces and in the face of the state of the pandemic that in the USA and throughout the American continent is really critical.

   City councils and mayors have substantially confirmed the spending budgets in favor of the police departments in Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Washington and New York (here only with modifications and detailed tweaks). The Democratic candidate for the White House Biden immediately declared himself opposed to the slogans of “defund the police” and “dismantle the police” put forward by the movement. No Democratic opposition taking on the demand for police funding cuts has come true (and those representatives who did so with conviction were struck off city councils and placed under investigation by the FBI as in Seattle). At this point, in the various Capitol Hill Organized Protests the question arose as to what to do, how to continue the struggle. Keep the square, the CHOP for as long as possible by preparing for safe clashes with the police, or to fall back on other methods and paths of the struggle? Parade under the mayors’ residences (which later took place in Seattle and considered an intimidating, terrorist act by Mayor Jenny Durkan), resume the streets and demonstrations? Legitimate questions that highlight the need for a class awareness that cannot be separated from the struggle.

Finding the way forward, definitively overcoming any democratic illusion and capitalist reform cannot take place on the level of “political decantation” and the political battle aimed at wresting the direction of this movement from the so-called “moderate” line (moderate? What nonsense) of the “Black Lives Matter”, to direct the movement towards a more authentic and coherent setting antagonistic to capitalism. Those who bet their chances on this risk losing their bet.

   It is the material objectivity on which this resumption of the general antagonism is given (which is of CLASS, of RACE and of GENDER and OF NATURE), an objectivity determined by the crisis and the pandemic that the current relations of force produce the current illusions democratic making them appear to those who look at the movement from the outside as the “main limits and obstacles” of the movement. The course of the crisis and the struggle will produce – not in the mechanical and progressive way – new challenges, new questions and more advanced solutions.

So much so that even today this movement does not characterize its current momentum in a resignation to the “least worst”, to the withdrawal towards the strategy of the “useful vote” for Biden against Trump.    Under the superficial crust of relations between classes and with capital, the embers continue to burn and are already preparing, not a distant tomorrow, but in the near future, further jolts and upheavals that tend to re-link the new and general terms of the question that’s the epochal clash between capitalism and communism (understood as a general battle against all oppressions of race, gender and class and the natural world). Meanwhile, July 20th, tomorrow, will be a new day of national struggle and strikes against systemic racism [.]

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