“If our lives really mattered, we’d have equal access to decent jobs, good schools and affordable housing. If our lives mattered in this country, we’d have equal access to clean air, clean water and real investment in black neighborhoods. If black lives mattered in America, those who routinely brutalize us wouldn’t be the ones paid, with our tax dollars, to keep us safe”– Erica Garner, Washington Post, 1/29/16.
In October 2016, Socialist Alternative published Marxism and the Fight for Black Freedom as a contribution both to the debate on the historical lessons of the black freedom struggle and on the way forward today in the fight to end law-enforcement violence, structural racism, and capitalism. The material highlighted the rich and uneven history of Marxism in the black freedom struggle. It caused a stir and intense discussion among the membership of Socialist Alternative over that history, the selection of material, and the Marxist approach to the overall battle to end racism and capitalism.
We believe Marxism and the Fight for Black Freedom was just the tip of the iceberg of material that we need to produce to genuinely examine the richness of the long black freedom struggle at home and abroad and draw out key lessons for a new generation of activists, anti-racist organizers, and socialists. In republishing the pamphlet, we have decided to name it Marxism and the Fight for Black Freedom: Volume 1 to clarify that we in no way are suggesting this material is exhaustive or comprehensive.
“ A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.” – Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois
On November 8, 2016, a month after the release of the pamphlet, Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America. He underlined his racist “law and order” agenda with the appointment of the notorious Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Since the day he took office in 2017, Trump has actively promoted racial division and anti-immigrant nativism.
Trump’s rhetoric emboldened the forces of the “alt-right,” white nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups who rampaged in Charlottesville last August resulting in the killing of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer. However, these groups which are still very weak were also set back by the mass reaction after Charlottesville. Perhaps more alarming is how Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has allowed white nationalists like Corey Stewart, their candidate for the Senate in Virginia, to go mainstream.
The rise of Trump and Sessions has put Black Lives Matter, as an organization and movement on the back heel despite the numerous spirited protests against law enforcement violence in our communities that are demanding justice. But in reality, that process of retreat began before Trump took office as BLM found it very difficult to sink roots in the broader black working class, in part because of the failure to mobilize around a broader program. The recent law enforcement killings of unarmed black workers and youth in Sacramento, Brooklyn, Chicago, and East Pittsburgh underlines the urgent task of building cohesive and sustainable organizations rooted in the daily struggle of working people, particularly in black, brown, and immigrant communities. In 2017, 1,147 people were killed by law enforcement, 25 percent were black. As of August 2018, 646 were killed by law enforcement according to MappingPoliceViolence.org.
Over two years ago, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of more than 50 organizations, released an extensive platform, “A Vision For Black Lives: Policy Demands For Black Power, Freedom, and Justice” (Policy.M4BL.org), taking on the issues of economic injustice, reparations, police violence, and political power. We had consistently argued for BLM to move in this direction, and Socialist Alternative broadly supported the platform.
The critical question we raised was how would this platform be discussed, debated, and amended by the broader movement so that it becomes a driving focus for struggle by the black working class under Trump. We proposed to BLM activists and the movement that it should organize a national conference to take stock of the unique and complicated situation we face and prepare activists on the ground on how to effectively fight back against Trump and utilize the Vision for Black Lives program. Unfortunately, our proposal was not taken up by the activists; we believe this would have placed BLM in a better position to act at this moment of clear and present danger in our communities, workplaces, and schools.
Trump’s administration poses the urgent task of uniting all the forces targeted by this reactionary regime. We must build a robust, fighting, and united mass movement in our schools, communities, and workplaces. Only a bold, determined, centralized, and grassroots struggle with clear demands can beat back the agenda of Wall Street and racism that is etched into the DNA of U.S. capitalism.
– Eljeer Hawkins, August 23, 2018