Spartacist South Africa No. 13
Break with the Democrats! For a Multiracial Workers Party!
Racist Cop Terror and Capitalist Decay in the US
Below we reprint an article from the newspaper of the
Spartacist League/U.S., section of the International Communist League (Fourth
Internationalist). Published in May, shortly after the killing of Freddie Gray
by Baltimore cops, the article also addresses the spate of racist cop killings
of black people that have led to outrage and protests across the United States
recently. Racist cop terror is but one expression of the all-sided special
oppression of the black minority in capitalist America, and the fight against
that oppression is necessarily integral to any struggle for workers revolution
to overthrow US imperialism from within.
The national oppression of the black majority in South
Africa differs in many respects from the oppression of blacks in the US as a
race-colour caste. However, just as in the US, it is important to combat
illusions in the police here, whose purpose is also to enforce the rule of the
capitalist exploiters through the violent suppression of the working class and
all the oppressed. A clear illustration of this is the so-called “Operation
Fiela-Reclaim” (Fiela is the Sotho word for sweep), begun in April, under which
the army has repeatedly been deployed to support the police in carrying out
raids and clamping down on civil unrest. Over 10 000 people have been arrested,
including thousands of immigrants who are now being deported in greater
numbers. One of the earlier raids, in April, was in Thembelihle, near
Johannesburg, a black township that has been in the news regularly for militant
service delivery protests. In July, Gauteng Premier David Makhura declared, in
response to protests by taxi drivers in Mamelodi: “The police are here. The
government is here. Operation Fiela has arrived in Mamelodi and it’s going to
sweep Mamelodi.” Around the same time, the operation— including deployment of
army troops domestically “as the need arises”—was extended until the end of
At the time it was launched, in the midst of the
violent anti-immigrant attacks in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, Fiela was
presented by the government as an operation to “protect” immigrants and was
welcomed as such by a variety of liberals and reformists. Spartacist/South
Africa fought against these suicidal illusions from the beginning, including
during a demonstration in April against xenophobia, where one of our placards
warned: “No Faith in the State that Butchered Marikana Miners! For Union
Defence of Immigrants!”
The article below was originally published in Workers
Vanguard No. 1068 (15 May).
* * *
The filing of charges on May 1 against six Baltimore cops involved
in the killing of Freddie Gray was aimed at putting a lid on the seething
discontent of the majority black city, which had erupted in an elemental
outpouring of rage four days earlier. The capitalist ruling class and its black
Democratic Party frontmen got some blowback against their system of
immiseration and racist cop terror; now they hope that things can go back to
normal. But for most people in the inner-city slums of Baltimore, normal life
means intolerable poverty, urban decay and state violence.
After Gray’s funeral on April 27, riot cops had swarmed into
West Baltimore’s Mondawmin neighborhood. The cops blockaded roads and stopped
buses as they corralled youth into the area of the Mondawmin Mall. Pent-up
ghetto fury exploded in the face of these cop provocations. A few stores were
trashed and a CVS pharmacy was burned. The state was quick to send in the
National Guard and a curfew was imposed. We said: “National Guard out
now! Down with the cops’ state of siege! Free all those arrested and drop all
charges!” (“Black Baltimore’s Justified Rage”, WV No. 1067, 1
The Guard has now been withdrawn, a portion of the nearly
500 arrested have been released and the curfew has been lifted for adults.
(Baltimore still maintains one of the strictest youth curfews in the
country—kids younger than 14 have to be indoors by 9 p.m.) However, charges are
still pending against many and the Baltimore police threaten that those
arrested and released could still face charges.
The disparity between the treatment of the perpetrators of
cop terror and their victims was seen by the fact that the six cops were all
immediately released on bail. In contrast, Allen Bullock, an 18-year-old
protester who allegedly smashed a traffic cone through a police car’s
windshield, was held in jail for nearly two weeks. It took his parents that
long to raise the money for his bail, which was set at $500,000—higher than that
for any of the killer cops.
Even though the six cops have been charged, it does not mean
that they will end up behind bars. Killer cops are rarely prosecuted and even
more rarely convicted; on April 20, the Chicago cop who killed Rekia Boyd in
2012 (the first cop in that city in more than 15 years to face charges in a
fatal shooting) was let off. As we noted after the acquittal of four New York
City cops who blew away African immigrant Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets
in 1999: “By the standards of bourgeois legality, the cops were not guilty of any
crime when they gunned down the 22-year-old unarmed black man. They were doing
the job they are paid to do under racist capitalism” (WV No. 731, 10 March 2000).
That job also includes attacking the picket lines of striking
workers, detaining immigrants, rounding up Muslims under the “war on terror”
and targeting those who protest against the depravities of the capitalist
profit system. It does not matter if the cops are black or white, have attended
“sensitivity training” or wear body cameras. Indeed, three of the six cops who
arrested Freddie Gray, took him for a “rough ride” in the back of their van and
broke his neck were black.
The city filed charges to clean up appearances so that the
police can better go about their business of repression. The cops’ masters in
Washington also stepped in to help quell the flames of protest by announcing a
federal investigation of the Baltimore police under the auspices of President
Obama’s new attorney general, Loretta Lynch. From the White House on down,
bourgeois politicians speak of the need to “rebuild trust” in law enforcement, worried
that the illusion that the police “serve and protect” the population as a whole
has become very threadbare. In fact, the purpose of the police, together with
the courts, prisons and military at the core of the capitalist state, is to enforce
the rule of the capitalist exploiters through the violent suppression of the
working class, black people and all the oppressed.
The reformist left has done its part to spread the lie
that the police can be made accountable to the “will of the people”. The
International Socialist Organization among others repeats the call to “send the
killer cops to jail”, channeling anger over cop terror right back into the very
“justice” system that upholds state violence in every way. For its part, the
Workers World Party ludicrously claims of Loretta Lynch, now top cop of U.S.
capitalism: “The ruling class is trying to steer her in a pro-police direction”
(workers.org, 27 April). They go on, “Whether Lynch will actually play the role
that is expected of her remains to be seen.” But make no mistake: her entire
career as a prosecutor has been as a legal enforcer of state repression.
The crimes of the killer cops should be met by massive, militant
protest centered on the social power of the multiracial working class. But the
pretenses of the socialist fakers to the contrary, the capitalist state and its
agents cannot be made to serve the interests of workers and the oppressed. The
truth is that there will be no end to racist police brutality until the capitalist
system the cops serve is uprooted through a proletarian socialist revolution.
From 1968 to 2015: Capitalists Loot Baltimore
Baltimore is a testament to the bankruptcy of police reform
and other such schemes. Many were implemented there decades ago, not least the
installation of “black faces in high places”. In the wake of the unrest,
Baltimore’s black Democratic mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake launched a public-private
partnership for urban renewal, which she called a “once-in-a-generation effort
to tackle inequality”. Anti-poverty programs were introduced in various cities
more than a generation ago in response to the ghetto rebellions that erupted
between 1964 and 1968. Once the turmoil was quelled, these programs were cut
way back; meanwhile, black people continued to bear the brunt of the normal brutal
workings of the capitalist system. By the end of that decade, a racist backlash
had already begun.
Baltimore was among the many cities across the country
that exploded in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Some 3,000 U.S. Army soldiers and almost the entire Maryland National Guard
were dispatched to suppress the uprising. Over 5,000 people were arrested and
hundreds injured. Afterwards, there was an acceleration of “white flight” from
the city, which had begun a decade earlier with school desegregation.
The ghetto upheavals of the 1960s, more often than not
sparked by incidents of police violence, marked the end of the civil rights movement,
which had raised great hopes and engendered enormous activism but had proven
incapable of meaningfully altering the fundamental plight of black people. The
mass struggles of the civil rights movement put an end to the system of Jim
Crow segregation in the South, but the movement broke apart when confronted
with the de facto segregation in the Northern ghettos, where black people already
had formal legal equality. The liberal pacifism and legalism of the civil
rights movement were unable to challenge the systemic oppression of black
people that is at the heart of American capitalism, expressed in racist cop terror,
chronic unemployment, decrepit housing, crumbling schools, poverty and hunger.
From the formation of the Spartacist tendency in the early
1960s, we have advanced a program of revolutionary integrationism—the
fight for the assimilation of black people into an egalitarian socialist
society, which is the only way to achieve real equality. As one of our early
documents laid out:
“Any organization which claims a revolutionary perspective
for the United States must confront the special oppression of black people—the
forced segregation of blacks at the bottom of capitalist society and the
poisonous racism which divides the working class and cripples its struggles.
There will be no social revolution in this country without the united struggle
of black and white workers led by their multiracial vanguard party. Moreover,
there is no other road to eliminating the special oppression of
black people than the victorious conquest of power by the U.S. proletariat.”
—Preface, Marxist Bulletin No. 5 (Revised) (1978)
This perspective is sharply counterposed to liberal integrationism—which
is based upon the deception that black freedom can be achieved within the
confines of the racist capitalist system—and also to black nationalism—which rejects
and despairs of integrated class struggle.
The 1960s riots came in a period of broader social ferment,
from the battles against racial segregation to growing opposition to the
Vietnam War. At the time, the government not only unleashed murderous
repression but also co-opted a layer of black activists into helping administer
“war on poverty” programs to re-establish control over the rebellious ghettos.
Some of them were installed as big-city mayors and in other elected offices. As
we noted back in 1966:
“Black Democrats sitting in Congress or on some city council
cannot change the conditions of the masses of people. These black Democrats
enrich only themselves as agents of [then-President Lyndon] Johnson’s party. As
long as they can prolong the illusion that the masses can use the Democratic
Party to change their conditions, they can deliver the vote from the ghettoes.
But such Democrats always desert the masses at critical points, as did the
Negro councilman in Cleveland who called for the National Guard to suppress the
people of Hough. The role of a political party is to gain and maintain state power
for a particular class.”
—“Storms in the Ghetto”, Spartacist No. 7, September-October
The Democrats, no less than the Republicans, are a party of
the capitalist class. There are plenty of black Democrats in office today, from
Baltimore’s mayor, police commissioner and state’s attorney, right up to
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, her predecessor Eric Holder and President
Barack Obama. And what good has it done black workers and the poor? By almost
every measure, things are worse today than they were at the end of the 1960s.
There are vastly greater numbers of black people in prison and vastly fewer
numbers of decent-paying jobs. What is needed to lead a struggle against the
ravages of racist U.S. capitalism is a party of the multiracial working class,
one committed to the fight for a workers America.
During the recent unrest in Baltimore, black Democrats joined
outright racists and the capitalist media in vilifying black youth for
“looting”. This is rich given that it is the capitalists themselves who have
looted and destroyed the city. “They want to act like the CVS is the Taj Mahal.
They have dilapidated buildings everywhere”, said one resident.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the Mid-Atlantic seaport of Baltimore
was a center of steel and auto production as well as shipbuilding. Good union
jobs were available that provided something approaching a decent life for some
black as well as white workers. Even then, black people were the “last hired, first
fired” and often worked the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs,
including in the unionized plants. But when the declining competitiveness of
American industry became unmistakable in the 1970s, the U.S. capitalists
started to shutter factories and move their investments elsewhere in a bid to
maintain profits. Black workers in the main became the “first fired, never
The Bethlehem Steel mill at Sparrows Point was at one time
the hub of manufacturing in Baltimore. In the late 1950s, Sparrows Point was
the most productive steel mill in the world and employed 30,000 at its peak.
Major layoffs began in 1971, although 17,000 workers remained as late as 1979. Subsequently,
full-scale deindustrialization set in. The half dozen shipyards in the early
1970s were down to only one by 1993, which later went bankrupt. The General
Motors plant shut down in 2005. By 2012, there were 160,000 fewer manufacturing
jobs in the Baltimore area than in 1957. The devastation of Baltimore is a tale
familiar in many other cities across the country where low-wage jobs, often
temporary or part-time, are increasingly the norm.
The looting of industry in this country was also a cudgel for
the capitalists to wrest massive givebacks from the unions in a one-sided, now
decades-long class war. All along, union members have been repeatedly stabbed
in the back by the pro-capitalist labor misleaders, who have subordinated the interests
of labor to company profitability. The end result is that the unions have been
severely crippled, while pay and working conditions of American workers have
been driven down across the board. To turn the tide will require some sharp
class battles, out of which a new, class-struggle leadership of the unions must
This war on labor has gone along with an earlier and ongoing
assault on the gains of the civil rights struggles, from busing for school
integration to voting rights. With jobs for black youth all but dried up, the
capitalist rulers have written off the ghettos, slashing social services and
education to the bone while building up the prisons. As victims of the hard lines
of racial segregation in Baltimore and across the country, those black people
with jobs were largely fleeced of their personal assets. Locked out of
traditional mortgages and forced into predatory subprime borrowing, large numbers
were thrown onto the streets when the housing bubble burst in 2007.
Freddie Gray’s neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, where
50 percent of people of working age are unemployed and over a quarter of the
buildings are vacant, has the highest number of people in jail and prison of
any census tract in Maryland. Between 2005 and 2009, fully a quarter of juveniles
in that neighborhood had been arrested. At any given point, over half of
Baltimore’s black youth are in the clutches of the state, whether jail, prison,
bail, probation or parole.
Mass incarceration is largely the result of the racist “war on
drugs” and stricter sentencing guidelines pushed by Democrats as well as
Republicans. Today, some elements within the bourgeoisie are concerned that the
country’s world-leading levels of incarceration are somewhat too high, particularly
because of the financial cost. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary
Clinton has sought of late to build up a black voting base by hypocritically
intoning against “the era of mass incarceration”. Now that the damage is done,
she wants to distance herself from the policies of previous Democratic
administrations, such as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
signed in 1994 by her husband, then-President Bill Clinton. The leading sponsor
of that act, which provided for 100,000 more cops and pumped nearly $10 billion
into new prison construction, was then-Senator Joseph Biden, now Obama’s vice
president. Bill Clinton’s administration was also responsible for “ending welfare
as we know it”, condemning already poverty-stricken families to complete
The Need for Revolutionary Leadership
On May 2, one day after the killer cops were charged, a demonstration
was held in front of City Hall with the celebratory theme “Baltimore United”. Workers
Vanguard salesmen reported that while the 4,000 who attended were relieved
that charges were filed, not everyone was buying into the celebration. No
surprise, sinister phalanxes of cops in riot gear and National Guardsmen were
massed behind the speakers’ platform. Our placard calling for the “National Guard
Out!” attracted a lot of favorable attention from protesters, including from a
black Vietnam vet. When asked what he thought of the rally being pitched as a
party, his answer was to point to the police snipers on the roof nearby.
Many of the speakers at the rally pushed voter registration.
In a town like Ferguson, Missouri, where the local government and police force
were almost all white, calls for voter registration to elect black politicians
last year gained some traction. But with numerous black officials running Baltimore,
the hollowness of getting out the vote for these Democrats is all too apparent.
On this score, liberal Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper admitted in a 29 April
article on Salon.com that she was “conflicted” over what it means that three of
her fellow black women (Rawlings-Blake, Lynch and Maryland National Guard
general Linda Singh) “have an unprecedented amount of municipal, national and
military power to put down a rebellion”.
The main rally organizer was Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers
for Justice. A former member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), this all-purpose
bigot is notorious for his anti-Jewish and anti-gay rants. Reactionary black
nationalists like Shabazz and the NOI express the aspirations of black petty entrepreneurs
who want to carve out the ghettos as their own fiefdoms. As NOI leader Louis
Farrakhan grotesquely put it: “We could effect a change in the lifestyle of our
people that would allow us to do more with less wages” (A Torchlight for
In promoting “black capitalism”, these nationalists seek
to divert anger that should be directed at the capitalist class enemy into the
scapegoating of immigrants—a program that only reinforces the segregation of
the black masses. In the 1990s, the NOI Security Agency had a contract to
police government-subsidized housing projects in Baltimore and elsewhere.
Today, Rawlings-Blake has thanked the NOI for its efforts to “keep calm and
peace in our city”.
The capitalist masters have long fomented racial antagonisms
to divide the working class and weaken its struggles as a means to ratchet up
the exploitation of all labor. The ongoing attacks on the unions and black
people over the last four decades underscore the point made by Karl Marx at the
time of the Civil War: “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where
in the black it is branded.” The working class as a whole confronts the same
prospect of immiseration and hopelessness that is inflicted in a more
intensified form on the bulk of the black population.
A program for black emancipation must start from the standpoint
that the whole system of racist capitalist oppression has to be brought down.
The current generation of youth protesting cop terror has grown up in a period
of a dearth of mass social and class struggle, so many have no understanding of
the possibility of such a revolutionary social transformation, much less the
motor force to bring it about. The working class, concentrated at the point of
production, uniquely has the social power and objective interest not only to
challenge the capitalist exploiters but to overthrow their entire rotten
system. That power is derived from its ability to cut off the flow of profits
by withholding its labor; but it will take a leap in consciousness and
organization for the proletariat to bring its power to bear in the fight for
its own emancipation from capitalist wage slavery and for the liberation of the
A small taste of the labor mobilization needed in defense of
the black population was shown by the International Longshore and Warehouse
Union (ILWU) Local 10, which shut down the Port of Oakland for one shift on May
Day. A contingent of up to 300 longshoremen with a union banner demanding “Stop
Police Terror!” headed up a 3,000-strong march to Oakland City Hall that day.
ILWU members also carried placards with photos of longshoremen’s relatives who had
been killed by the cops, including 24-year-old Richard “Pedie” Perez. The majority
black Local 10 represents a living link that could fuse the social power of
labor to the anger of the downtrodden ghetto masses. But the potential power of
the ILWU and other unions is kept under wraps by the labor bureaucracy, which
is wedded to the rule of the U.S. imperialists and preaches reliance on
Democratic Party politicians.
Plebeian discontent and the disgruntlement of working people
can go in many different directions but will not in and of themselves lead to
revolutionary consciousness. The spontaneous displays of anger by the
dispossessed in Baltimore, Ferguson and beyond will once again be dissipated into
the swamp of liberal reformism absent the intervention of a proletarian
vanguard party. It is the purpose of the Spartacist League to build such a
party, which would act as a tribune of the people, combating every
manifestation of oppression. The vital struggles for labor’s immediate
interests are also in the immediate interests of the ghetto masses—the fight to
organize the unorganized, end “two-tier” wage scales, for a shorter workweek at
no loss in pay to provide jobs for all.
A revolutionary workers party would not only arm workers
with the program to fight for such felt needs but render the advanced sections
of the working class conscious of its historic role as the gravedigger of
capitalism. The proletariat must rip the productive wealth out of the hands of the
greedy and irresponsible capitalists and begin building a collectivized,
planned economy based on social need, not profit. When working people run
society, there will be massive investment in quality housing, education and
health care for all. Black workers, who remain a strategic component of the
American working class, will play a central role in the struggle for workers
rule. For black liberation through socialist revolution!