The Red Party condemns the killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, yet more victims of the terror campaign perpetrated by the armed wing of the state. The slogan ‘Black lives matter’ should be as obvious and self-evident as the color of the sky… but as we’ve seen time and again, this isn’t the case.
In stark view for all working and oppressed people to see, Philando Castile – a Black father, education worker and trade unionist – was shot multiple times by a police officer despite having complied with the officer’s instructions. Alton Sterling’s death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was also captured in a gruesome bystander video depicting two officers tackling him to the ground outside a gas station before shooting him while restrained. In both cases, the men were armed but lawfully licensed to carry.
It is increasingly implausible for the political establishment to deny racism’s profound structural presence in American society – even professional conservative blowhard Newt Gingrich noted that whites “instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination” faced by Black people.1 But where the more fair-minded sections of the ruling class and its ideologues see racism primarily as a problem of individual prejudices or, at best, a social problem to be remedied by feel-good reforms and a hefty dose of privilege-checking, communists recognize racism as built into the very structure of American capitalism. Black oppression, dating back to the slave labor that built up the Thirteen Colonies and the modern police’s origins as slave-catching patrols, manifests most sharply as deaths at the state’s hands – which was worse in 2015 than during even the most violent year of Jim Crow segregation.2 But it also comes in the form of poverty, unemployment, inferior access to health care and the prison-industrial complex.
Almost immediately, mass protests formed in the St. Paul area, Baton Rouge, and around the country. The capitalist media is leading a contemptible offensive against the movement after a ‘lone wolf’ sniper killed five police officers during a solidarity demonstration in Dallas. They are criminally drawing an equal sign between an individual’s act of violence and the wholesale lawful slaughter our movement fights against.
To be clear, while communists are not pacifists, we oppose acts of individual killings like this one because they harm the cause of liberation. Individual terror not only leads to increased state repression in its wake, but also tends to demobilize the masses and make them into passive observers rather than agents of history. The existing situation continues, with reactionary forces in a better position and the movement weakened. For example, the Oath Keepers – a right-wing paramilitary organization following in a long tradition of extra-state terror levied as discipline against restive people of color – have called on “all patriotic Americans” to take up arms against the “campaign of Marxist terrorism,” which is “closely related [to the] Jihadist terrorism offensive.”3
In the past two years #BlackLivesMatter has had a real impact in politicizing thousands of poor and working-class people, in building alliances4 with labor, women’s and anti-imperialist struggles, and in forcefully reintroducing the politics of liberation into the public consciousness in a way not seen since the Black Power movement decades ago. But the movement is at a crossroads.
Semi-spontaneous street protests are positive but limited in their effectiveness, and it’s not possible to keep tens of thousands mobilized on the streets indefinitely. Instead, what’s needed is conscious, collective organization around a program of radical change. Without this the movement can’t defend itself against external threats, nor speak with its own voice contra the Democratic Party and its carrot-and-stick agenda of direct repression mixed with periodic mutterings for toothless, tepid reforms.
Racism is fundamentally a class issue; the working class has a vested material interest in fighting oppression in all its forms. The bosses’ divide-and-rule is among their most effective weapons against us, and the “armed bodies of men” who terrorize the Black community are the same as those who break a picket line or conduct deportations. We need to get our own house in order, and fight for rebuilding the workers’ movement as a champion of social liberation. Our vision must become one of far-reaching democracy both within our movement and in the state, including democratic community self-defense organizations, demilitarizing the police, and ultimately the abolition of the police as an institution.