14 June 2023
To Workers Vanguard editors:
HuffPost online had following information that was uncovered by reporters:
Sources used in earlier reporting on Neely’s behavior on the train were police sources. Other sources (passengers) contradict these, Neely did not threaten others, did not throw trash or his jacket on passengers, only had a serious meltdown. Penny says his chokehold was not a chokehold, but a restraint for 5 minutes not 15 minutes. The following is a letter I was preparing to WV before I came across HuffPost info.
Workers Vanguard supplement 8 June 2023, Neely No Angel, Penny No Hero article was a well written article addressing a difficult subject and alarmingly painful incidence. I am sure WV readers appreciate it just as much as I did. But I cannot accept the following in its entirety. Penny was a Marine veteran that was trained to kill, that’s what they do. Perhaps his Marine training kicked in. However, I don’t think anyone can say this was his intentions. The 15 minute chokehold was not simply excessive, it was deadly. The only verifiable fact here was Neely had a severe emotional mental breakdown that was horrible to witness; everything else is unverifiable. Now let me make this point, fear is not a sufficient reason to take a human life. We are not in a war where one is justified to kill first. The question is what did Neely really do to bring on his death in an act of self-defense by the killer?
“Neely was unhinged, acted in a threatening manner and was said to have thrown trash at passengers. (my italics)
“Juan Alberto Vazquez caught Neely’s death on his phone and reported that Neely had shouted: ‘I’m tired already. I don’t care if I go to jail and get locked up. I’m ready to die.’ This wasn’t a man who was moonwalking on the train and placed in a chokehold out of nowhere by a white racist looking for his next black victim. In the eyes of the passengers that day, Neely was a real-life threat. What would the liberals and fake leftists have them do? Wait until Neely had physically harmed or killed someone—wait until it was too late? (my italics) That’s exactly what they want: for the proletariat to sacrifice itself in the name of liberal compassion!” These words sound like you are signing off on a preemptive action. This is wrong, but I don’t think you really mean this, because these words are so cavalier.
Negrophobia has a long and bloody history in the U.S. going all the way back to black chattel slavery. It is alive and well today. Like the mother of the 9 years old girl who a grown white man neighbor called 911 on saying he sees a black woman and is “afraid”, said this endangers black youth. I have a friend who jokingly said to me, “We should have one day in the year where every black person calls 911 to say, ‘I just saw a white person and I am afraid!’” There is much truth here. Taking a human life because you are afraid works better with black people, not so well with whites. This is the real life effect of negrophobia.
WV replies: It’s not that you can’t accept the article in its entirety. It’s that you find the main point of our hard-hitting piece unacceptable. Neely’s death was not the result of a racist attack but an act of self-defense that ended in tragedy.
You want the article to state that Neely was mentally ill, check. You want us to write that his death should’ve never happened, check. So, what’s all the static about? Well, when it gets to the nitty-gritty, you would have us say that Penny snuck up behind Neely in the middle of a dance routine and killed him in cold blood, all because he was black—that Neely’s death had nothing to do with self-defense and Penny is a racist. Well, that just isn’t the case, and this wasn’t decided by WV. It was decided by the reality of the events that took place and the brutal conditions of life in New York City perpetuated by the capitalist system. There’s nothing cavalier about stating plainly the cold, hard facts.
Different passengers who were on the very train car where everything went down say that Neely was threatening them, that he was throwing garbage at them and that Penny along with another man, who wasn’t white, intervened to prevent Neely from causing any harm during his mental break. This “preemptive action” is summed up by Juan Alberto Vasquez, who said in an interview that Neely throwing his jacket signaled that “‘there could be an act of violence here,’ because those things do happen all the time.” One passenger interviewed by a few news outlets said they would testify in Penny’s trial that if no one had intervened, Neely would’ve hurt somebody. But to you, all this is unverifiable—a position that plays well into the program of the anti-racist liberals, who choose to hear and see what they want to hear and see in the service of maintaining the status quo.
Here’s another place where you are wrong. It is constant war on the streets of NYC. Every day, the working masses throughout the boroughs endure cop-infested trains, only to then have to dodge or fight their way out of attacks by lumpen youth or the mentally ill, who are driven to crime by stifling impoverishment. The Neely/Penny situation is in no way unique. The housing crisis, deindustrialization, unemployment, the pandemic and other social catastrophes have led to increased homelessness and crime, much of which intersects the black population. But instead of dealing with reality squarely and providing a program to combat these crises, the anti-racist liberal says that acknowledging this harsh reality is racist or negrophobic. Let’s face it, the reason the fake left and the liberals resort to these slanders is to undercut the fight for black liberation by driving a wedge between black people and white workers.
The working masses are told to eat it by the liberals and that their only hope is more cops on the trains. This is suicidal, as the police are in place to terrorize black and Latino youth, workers and the homeless. Other liberals call for more social workers, which cannot possibly make up for a dilapidated health care system and does nothing to challenge capitalism. To the liberal, if workers decide to fight back against someone who is worse off, they’re uncompassionate and blamed for all the ills created by this irrational system. This response diverts attention from those actually responsible for social degradation, foments reaction in the class and chips away at the already eroded elementary right of proletarian self-defense.
Ignoring the concerns of the urban working masses (who are the main targets of lumpen crime) and pushing the liberal lie that every negative interaction between a white person and a black person is inherently racist—especially when the backdrop is burnt-out, rat-infested ghetto housing, schools that mimic Riker’s Island jail and soaring food prices—will only split the class along racial lines, pushing some into the arms of reaction. That’s why the program of anti-racist liberalism, while proclaiming “sensitivity” toward the needs of black people, provides not a damn solution for the working class, black or white. By deeming lumpen crime as something the proletariat should put up with, it bolsters the authority of the right wing. The right wing also provides not a damn solution for the working class, fanning the flames of racial discontent. It promotes vigilantism, telling white workers concerned about lumpen crime to take justice into their own hands.
In your letter, you choose to make the Neely/Penny case simply black and white, literally and figuratively. You flatten out the contradictions and complexities by comparing it to a real instance of racism: a 9-year-old black girl catching lantern flies having the police called on her by a white neighbor who was “afraid.” But Neely wasn’t a young black child innocently playing in his neighborhood. He was a schizophrenic who was notorious throughout the MTA system for assaulting transit workers and women, as reported by some MTA workers on the Local 100 Fightback Facebook group. Even then, Neely didn’t deserve to die. But as Marxists, we believe that everyone has the right to defend themselves and others—even a 24-year-old retired Marine who is white. This position has sent the liberals and fake left into a frenzy, because they think every white person is a racist and the lumpenproletariat can do no wrong.
29 August 2023
In my letter to you of August 7 I noted your reference, in the Perry [sic] /Neely article, to Marx’s remark about “human garbage”. Surely Marx was using the phrase ironically and not pejoratively, as a way the bourgeois might refer to the most oppressed and depraved of the bourgeoisie’s victims. I don’t believe that Marx would have referred even to the criminal lumpen as “garbage” in that pejorative way. I have not been able to find a reference to that statement by Marx anywhere online, so without that context it’s impossible to say.
You also refer to the fact that liberals have written that Neely should have been “met with compassion”. Compassion is not only felt by liberal bleeding hearts. Their compassion is just hypocrisy. (Or more accurately, the degree to which their compassion is not hypocritical is the degree they would be attracted to the workers movement in a revolutionary situation.) Neely definitely should have been met with compassion, though the desperate like him could only have been met with true compassion by communists, or by worker defense guards in the manner I described in my August 7 letter. Unlike the true human garbage in Washington and downtown Manhattan, the Neelys of the U.S. would deserve and find therapeutic compassion in post-revolutionary socialist society.
You also suggest that Perry’s action was not necessarily motivated by racism. He may not be a white supremacist, but do you think Perry would have acted as he did if Neely were white? One can only speculate, but it seems to me that that kind of public retribution is usually reserved for black people.
For these reasons I believe the SL must surely reject “Neely No Angel, Penny No Hero” if it is to maintain its proud history as the champion of the oppressed. I am continuing my financial support of the SL (but as it seems like the PDC is in hiatus (?) I will hold off on those contributions temporarily).
In communist solidarity,
WV replies: Your criticism of our rhetoric signifies a squeamishness not uncommon on the left. Marx effectively used terms like “human garbage” to refer to the lumpenproletariat, and he was not being ironic at all. In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), Marx described how Bonaparte claimed “himself chief of the lumpenproletariat” and saw “in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally.” The lumpenproletariat of 19th century French society had been organized by Bonaparte to take from the working class, “benefiting themselves at the expense of the laboring nation.” It was a layer of society that the proletariat needed to defend themselves against, just as much as they needed to defend themselves against Bonaparte.
It is true that liberal compassion comes from a place of hypocrisy. But it’s also the case that the mentally ill and homeless population need a whole lot more than compassion. They need resources that will pull them out of the poverty and degradation imposed on them by the capitalist system. The resources necessary to solve the problem of homelessness, crime and other societal ills are nowhere to be found under this system. In fact, to resolve the issue of housing, unemployment and health care would require a massive confrontation with the ruling class.
But how would the working class be able to do this if it is completely disarmed and divided along racial lines by anti-racist liberalism? Well, it wouldn’t. The liberal program would make sitting ducks out of workers, leaving them unable to defend themselves against any attack by the state or the lumpenproletariat. That’s what liberal compassion—which is completely divorced from class society and against working-class interests—gets workers, blackmailing them into “keeping the peace.”
We Marxists do not claim to be in Penny’s head. But speculating that Penny would have acted differently if Neely had been white is just more of the same mess being pushed by the liberals. It’s a way to cast doubt on self-defense and to convince the working class that the Neely case was automatically a racist attack because it involved a white man and a black man in a violent incident. This corrosive position can only serve the ruling class, as they profit off racial divisions in society.
The same goes for your line on “public retribution.” Almost two months after Neely’s death, another black man, Devictor Ouedraogo, was killed by Jordan Williams, who is also black, on a NYC train. Ouedraogo was acting unhinged and threatening riders. Williams himself had been assaulted by a woman, who put a knife to his eye just a few weeks before. This time, as Ouedraogo went to assault a woman, Williams intervened. And the left? Absolutely silent. There’s no need to speculate here. The reason the liberals and the fake left didn’t take up this incident and condemn the killer as a racist is because this time the killer was black. It didn’t fit their narrative of racist vigilantism gripping New York City. Penny had the right to self-defense, just like Williams. And just like Neely, Ouedraogo didn’t deserve to die. But when in a situation of life or death, the working masses have the right to defend their lives.