As the George Floyd/#BlackLivesMatter protests show no signs of slowing since late May, we have just observed Juneteenth, the national holiday of the Afro-American people celebrating the news of their legal emancipation from chattel slavery. The significance of this day, in light of their ongoing oppression in all parts of the US, and the historic betrayal of the Union of the people they ostensibly fought to liberate in the South in particular, can hardly be overstated.
Generally, Juneteenth is overwhelmingly celebrated by Afro-Americans, and is largely unknown by the rest of the US. Any official acknowledgement of the day has generally been confined to Texas, which is where it originated. However, in light of recent events, Juneteenth 2020 was commemorated on a massive scale. Thousands upon thousands marched from coast to coast, union dockworkers organized by the left-wing ILWU shut down every port on the West Coast, and a bill to make Juneteenth a countrywide holiday was introduced in the Senate. In this we see the tension between the powers that be and the insurgent masses. While our rulers are forced to acknowledge Juneteenth and try to turn it around and co-op it into a whitewashed summer version of MLK Day (a day for fine speeches and mattress sales), the masses tore down Confederate statues in the heart of the South and shut down a vital point of the global economy. Once again, the gap between their boardrooms and legislative chambers and our streets and communities has been shown. They attempt to pacify, but find themselves outpaced by events. We must not let them close this gap. We must continue to push the struggle forward.
Our people in New York, North Carolina, and Massachusetts have been out among the masses shouting for justice for Afro-American people in the face of police violence, the continuation of historic slave patrols. Since the initial #BlackLivesMatter protests in 2013, however, there has been a quantitative and qualitative increase in the prominence and political capital of these protests. Accordingly, now is the time to begin to speak about the implications for revolutionary organization in this country.
#BlackLivesMatter itself is the height of popular organization which exists at present. This honor was earned first and foremost by the Afro-American people themselves, in their broad masses. Their long-deferred dream of freedom and justice now explodes in the streets, in the squares, in every single one of the fifty states. This is a crucial turning point for Black America, and an important moment for us all in our education as revolutionaries in the United States.
#BlackLivesMatter, as a popular campaign, like the historical Black liberation movements from which it draws so much strength and continuity, is organised around a fundamental demand for Black freedom and justice, for Black political power as the antidote to white supremacy. This latest uprising, sparked by the murder of George Floyd as an individual, but quickly drawing into it the demand for justice for the many victims of lynchings of Afro-Americans preceding and following this particular murder, is impressive for several reasons:
1) The rhetorical centering and practical leadership of Black women, particularly in their vocal admonishment of patriarchal Black men for ignoring the Black women victims, in particular Black trans women, murdered alongside the many Black men who have fallen victim to the unchecked racist violence of the settler-colonialist police forces and their “extra-legal” allies, from the Klan to diverse other kinds of white “vigilante” terrorists.
2) The increased participation of Black immigrant groups with social ties both to the Afro-American people among whom they are increasingly socialized and their home countries: from Haitians in New York chanting in their native Creole language to ululation and Islamic prayer by Somali protesters in Minneapolis, Blackness is able to simultaneously serve as the identity of the descendents of US slaves seeking historical justice “at home” and as an identity tying the Afro-American people to other Black groups resisting the dominant oppressor identity of the head of international imperialism.
3) The incredible capacity for the closing of ranks by Black revolutionaries and non-Black revolutionaries around clear demands and practical action. The momentum of this uprising has captured the attention of the entire world, providing inspiration for newfound energy in the parallel struggles against racist police violence in countries such as France and Australia.
Despite repeated efforts to water down the demands or control the fury of the resistant masses, ranging from the pathetic and redundant “8 Can’t Wait” campaign pushed by the usual Democratic misleadership to demands from liberals for resisters to hand over alleged provocateurs to the police while protesting the police (!), a general mood of “defund to abolish” permeates the youth of all backgrounds.
While certainly there have been setbacks and compromises, especially at particular protest sites, the rhetoric of Angela Davis, prominent advocate for police and prison abolition, is gaining ground in the US mainstream. This is a high water mark in a war of position with the pigs being waged by the masses themselves. The less engaged masses are beginning to learn through the breadth of this struggle the depth of the stakes. The frontline strugglers are confronting the police in flesh and blood on a scale and with a ferocity not seen in any of our lifetimes. The role of technology here cannot be understated: for all the powerful weapons technology and surveillance state advantage which the pigs hold in their hands, their bullying, trickery, their petty fascism can and is being quickly captured and disseminated for all to see, not only in this country, but around the world.
Here we salute in particular the valuably initiative towards a police-free autonomous zone in the Capitol Hill district of Seattle. In a city where the Black population is less than half, and the Indigenous population less than a quarter of that in Minneapolis, where the uprising started, a mostly white and frequently vacillating popular democratic movement none the less emphasizes that #BlackLivesMatter and acknowledge the infringed-upon sovereignty of the mostly Urban Indian Dxʷdəwʔabš tribe. Whatever the limitations of this moment in time and space, people’s power is emerging as a viable alternative in the imagination of the white left.
4) The importance of history: this great moment is showing that old historical wrongs can be brought back to the fore as causes of today. From colonialist statues in California to Confederate statues in the Black Belt South, and finding its reflection across the Atlantic in the struggle against symbols of racist British imperialism, white supremacy as a historical phenomenon is under attack by the heroic masses. While the immediate demands of the uprising relate to the defunding and abolition of the police, there is a vision emerging, particularly in the south, of a future which can overcome the toxic past of white supremacy and settler-colonialism.
5) Thus we come, last but by no means least, to the great resistance in Atlanta, the so-called “Black Mecca”, and a city of great economic and social importance in the Black Belt South. Mayor Keisha Bottoms marshalled the support of some of Atlanta’s biggest celebrity rappers to scold Atlanta protesters for daring to express their outrage at outrageous oppression. Mayor Bottoms stood with APD Chief Erika Shields as she attacked protesters as “anarchists” and “terrorists”. The protesters were collectively treated as children living in a fantasy land while the compradors in this neo-liberal colony of US imperialism painted a real fantasy image of “Wakanda”.
But when injury followed this insult, in the murder of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta pigs in a Wendy’s, it was the people of Atlanta and not the pigs who could hold their heads high. Erika Shields resigned, and the Wendy’s burned. APD, unable to cope with the fury of the people, have been abandoning their posts. Still Mayor Bottoms stands with the pigs, throwing money at them instead of the impoverished masses who rightly expressed the outrage she so belittled.
It is too soon to say what the medium-to-long-term future of Atlanta resistance will be. One thing is clear, however: the rage of Black America, their righteous demand for justice and liberation, has burst through the dam. Decades of demoralization following the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the FBI destruction of movements and organizations like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense are now turning around: Black youth are standing up from Detroit to Dixie. They are bringing all of us into a new phase of struggle.
Who stands with the uprising?
The responsibility of non-Black revolutionaries and proletarians is not to replace or take over this struggle, but to support and defend it within a broad conception of the shared struggle for liberation of all people. Struggle for a New World does not write this declaration with any eye to dictating the terms of Black struggle. We affirm that their revolutionary will and leadership is self-evidently emergent. We bear witness to the fact that they produce their own theoreticians, leaders, warriors, and heroes every day.
On the contrary, we write this declaration to draw a line in the sand for the left at large, Black and white, Indigenous, New Afrikan, immigrant, and settler. The neo-liberal order is being shaken, and we are passing beyond a point where we can speak in platitudes of a socialism defined merely by resistance to its elected representatives.
Decolonization, anti-imperialism, resistance and revolution are not just words. They are concrete actions. Those who truly seek to carry out these heroic acts cannot limit ourselves to wishing for Sanders back, cannot push the heroic liberation movements of the oppressed peoples to the back of the line.
Going forward, the revolutionary socialist left must define itself in its overall strategy, collectively, on its commitment to upholding, defending, providing concrete solidarity to, and uniting with struggles such as the Black liberation struggle which is reemerging before the eyes of the entire world. All of those trends who seek to use the daylight hours of the protests simply to recruit a few impressionable kids to raise their organization’s online and protest profile, who suck their teeth in disapproval at a toppled statue or a burned Wendy’s, who secretly cannot wait for the uprising to die down so they can resume their preprogrammed “business as usual” paper leftism, who approach the struggles in this country with formulaic, detached, posturing leftist antics can and in fact must be kept at a distance.
We are certain that practical work will become more intensive for revolutionaries in the US in the coming months and years. We are living at the possible end times of the climate crisis, at a crucial turning point for the US’s position as head of international imperialism, and at a time of newfound hope for the oppressed in this country. With sober minds and careful words, we must sit down at the table with all of those revolutionary elements who share our analysis of the history and likely future of this settler-colony. History is handing us an opportunity to play a crucial role in our own liberation. We must answer by uniting in struggle and struggling in unity with all others whose practical ideology is the liberation of the people, resistance to all oppression, and exposure of all lies which stand in the way of these tasks. We must sit down in organizing coalitions as war councils, and in particular we must engage in a principled dialogue with other revolutionary socialists in such contexts so as to better organize and unite our efforts and forces.
The unity of the workers and oppressed peoples will form the basis for the building of an organization for their liberation.