“Politics is war without guns, war is politics with guns/know what I mean? You better get one” - M1 of dead prez
Assata Shakur, on urban revolts: "What do you mean, they're burning down their houses? They don't own those houses. They don't own those stores. I'm glad they burned down those stores because those stores were robbing them in the first place!" - Autobiography, 150
Forgive the unpolished character of these notes, y’all. I was hoping to have more time to compose them into a careful analysis of conditions in the hood that are leading to a decisive confrontation between the Black masses and the power structure, and also its flunkies in the petty-bourgeoisie. I was hoping to have more victories on the ground in the way of agitation and propaganda; to give a favorable update on the efforts of my organization (Third World Peoples’ Alliance) in building movements in New York around concrete demands to win the people to revolution, such as our Suffolk County Sheriff’s Salary Cap Campaign, and our prison-abolition work in NYC and Buffalo.
But the events of late May/early June 2020 suddenly have found the Black masses moving very quickly, and so I’ve tried to quickly jot down what I could, in hopes that my notes may be of immediate use to comrades on the ground, and in distant lands wanting clarity on the meaning of these uprisings.
Some quick background first. Using the COVID-19 outbreak as pretext, the state governments of the US settler-colonial regime have mobilized the National Guard throughout the country. They did this with a careful eye on those cities where the Black freedom struggle would likely take on a violent form, following the pattern of Ferguson, St. Louis, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and, more recently, Memphis. In these uprisings, which grew out of the non-violent Black Lives Matter movement, the Black grassroots responded to militarized police departments by hurling stones and bricks, by throwing fists, by setting fires, and by multifarious other means of self-defense, to let the pigs know they would not be brutalized for demonstrating peacefully.
In giving expression to lifelong resentments built against the fascist police, who occupy our communities like foreign troops, the righteous masses embodied the idea of the African revolutionary Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), that non-violence ought to be a tactic, not an abiding philosophy; and that it should be dropped when it doesn’t work, when it’s clear for all to see that the oppressor has no conscience to which we can appeal for peace. They also underlined the key insight from revolutionary theorist Frantz Fanon, that the question of political violence haunts every struggle to get free, whether the Black movement’s leadership likes it or not.
On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a brother named George Floyd was accused of trying to pass off a counterfeit bill. True to their pattern, four pigs used excessive force to restrain him, with one cracker named Derek Chauvin holding him to the ground by pressing his knee on the brother’s neck for a full nine minutes. George Floyd died from asphyxia, though the pigs and the press have tried to attribute his death to preexisting medical conditions. Like another brother, Eric Garner of Staten Island, who was also choked to death, screaming “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd’s murder by the state – be not mistaken, this was state-sanctioned murder – is only the most prominent case in a pattern that's clear throughout Afro-America during the COVID shutdown. The police have been ramping up their presence in Black communities, using these emergency lockdown measures as an excuse to step up a campaign of harassment, abuse, arrest, and outright murder of Black people. Breonna Taylor and David McAtee of Louisville and Tony McDade of Tallahassee are two other recent cases of the capricious and illegal use of force by the pigs to intimidate us in our communities and in our very homes. Any Black person with some sense could tell you it was just a matter of time before the many mundane incidents of police harassment and murder, produced a qualitative change in the response of the people.
And respond we did, in a righteous assault upon dozens of cities in late May and early June. Starting in Minneapolis, where tear gas and rubber bullets were used on peaceful protesters, and were countered by superior numbers in a spontaneous revolt that backed down the Minneapolis Police Department; that gave us our abiding symbol, the destruction by fire of the Third Precinct building. In protests around the country – in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, and more than a dozen other cities – the people have fought back against the police, using fists and whatever else was available to introduce pigs to reality. Brute force that knows no reason, will eventually be met with brute force that has every reason; and there is incalculably greater force on our side, when we realize we have the right to rebel.
Black people needed this. And let me be clear: we might have allies in this fight – to be distinguished from riot tourists – but this is a Black thing. After Ahmaud Arbery, after Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, we could not just let them think we would be brutalized and stopped-and-frisked and murdered into compliance. They have to know that, no, we didn’t sign their bullshit social contract when they brought the first Africans here in chains; but we do have the power to rip it the fuck up, in a grand display that will expose this empire's weakness for the world to see. A display that will show the peoples of the Third World who their natural allies are in this prison-house of oppressed nations.
I’ve talked about the grandeur of our spontaneous revolt. Now I hope to speak to its weaknesses.
Spontaneous fightback gives the measure of the people’s willingness to listen to revolutionary alternatives, but it is not the same as revolution. More usually, because of the disorganization and lethargy of the socialist movement in the US, these energies are dissipated in the fight for reforms. I hope everybody understands, though, that the system does not have any real response to this latest crisis, except more and greater repression. Their resources are tied up trying to hold up a flagging economy, and the fascist scum Donald Trump is in no mood to play LBJ in response to urban rebellions. Witness his recent invocations of the Insurrection Act, which would give the US president power to use the military to suppress “citizen” protests (and has not been implemented since 1941).
Anyway, there will be no reforms that will make it safer for Black people, and our activists need to drum this into the public discourse as successfully as “I can’t breathe” and other movement slogans. The last big thing that reformists in the movement fell for was body cams, and we all see how well that turned out (two of George Floyd’s murderers wore body cams). The practices of police departments in this country are not amenable to real change, because racial terrorism is their social function. Because their origins lie in the protection of private property, which on this continent is controlled by whites; and in keeping formerly enslaved Africans firmly in line during the post-bellum period, when we were given debt peonage and chain gangs instead of reparations. Harassment and violence are necessary for this social order to remain standing, since the system is predicated on capitalism, and capitalism can't survive by redistributing the stolen fruits of our labor and land as Black and Indigenous people.
If we are going to put an end to all this, then we need to abolish the police. In order to abolish the police, we also need to abolish private property and provide full employment. In order to do both of those things, we need a revolution. So revolution is the only solution. That might sound scary to you, because you don't know what it looks like yet, and seems to many to just mean "lawlessness." But join a revolutionary organization and you will discover that people have been thinking about and organizing for this for a long time, and that they have concrete plans for putting a better social system in place, and that you can supply insights that will help us correct what we have overlooked.
You have plenty of options, too, depending on your personal philosophy. Join the TWPA and MBSO, join the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, join the AAPRP, join the MCP-OC, join the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, join the PSL, join Socialist Resurgence, join the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement, join an organization that is talking about socialism and revolution. But please...get organized.
A point I would like to re-emphasize is that our movement needs to be clear that this is a Black struggle. Others can help us in this fight, but their help has to be on our terms. They cannot come in on their own and decide what they are going to do on our behalf, and this is especially true of so-called white allies, even those who call themselves “leftists” engaged in the same class struggle as the proletarianized and lumpenized Black masses. The average white family's net worth is ten times that of the average Black family. These are only averages, and do not reflect the extremes. Black people are incarcerated at between five and ten times the rate of whites. We are twice as likely to be unemployed. WE ARE MURDERED BY THE POLICE AT A HIGHER RATE, TO SAY NOTHING OF INCIDENTS OF POLICE BRUTALITY, STOP-AND-FRISK, AND OTHER SYMPTOMS OF RACIAL POLICING. All of these statistics are widely acknowledged by liberal sources and by non-Marxist social scientists, too, so nobody can flippantly write them off as Third Worldism (whose critics usually don’t have the slightest clue about its real arguments).
White leftists who talk about how the recent conflagrations are a "class war" need to understand that it is one, but that their people are not necessarily on our side. White people in this country are overwhelmingly petty-bourgeois, and Black people are overwhelmingly proletarian, and this has to do with a racial division of labor that extends back to slavery and Jim Crow, and whose effects cannot be wished away by earnestness. The need to front like it's all the same fight is not only idealist, but it also indicates an unwillingness to damn listen when we are explaining the difference. That has to change, or y'all gotta go.
There are white radical organizations, such as the Marilyn Buck Solidarity Organization, that are willing to fall under the leadership of organizations led by and composed of Black and Third World people; and this needs to be the model for white involvement in the struggle by Africans with the forces arrayed against us, which have historically included even the white worker. If “revolutionary” whites don’t want to unite with that, then tell them to keep the Panthers’ names out their mouths, because this was the same position of the Panthers toward the Progressive Labor Party, the CPUSA, and other organizations that resented colonized-people-only formations in the Black Power and New Communist movements. We have a mind of our own, as Huey said; and we will form the theory and the practice that will bring about our liberation.
I want to end these notes by directly addressing friends and enemies in the struggle.
To my people, currently in the grip of poverty and mass incarceration, laboring under the lies told by neo-colonial leaders like Uncle Barack. Know that the wise and the strong never have been those who know how to win wealth, prestige, and professional contacts with the white rulers. The past few months have shown us the exact value of Babylon's riches when the everyday people are stuck in our homes, or we are angrily stuffing their streets. Wisdom lies in seeing your own fate as inseparably one with the Black collective; and strength lies in guarding that insight against every disappointment, reversal, and act of repression. Each Black executive and newscaster, every shrewd politician and wealthy rapper who has raised their voice against this mighty tide, has been hissed and booed back into the shadow of their Grecian pillar. While poor, humble people, once the anonymous targets of state violence, are now sacralized by the great masses; and their cult is elevated with every fist, brick, knife, and whatever else that we thrust at a damn pig.
The last shall be first, for real though. Let us look at the poorest, most desperate, and most vulnerable among us, as the symbols of everything that we are living, fighting, and dying for, and never be tempted by the cheap displays and mellifluous appeals of the imperialist stooge.
Now, to the white nation: know that your charmed life is built on contradictions that it cannot resolve. It brought us here to build the homes, the towns and cities, the agriculture, the factories, its commercial sector on the cheap, and acts like it's doing us a favor by pressing us down into ghettos, rather than shipping us "back where we came from." It keeps us landless and artificially unemployed, so that we can be moved around at the leisure of the economy, so that we can enrich the landlords and the petty merchants. It mass incarcerates us, and harasses and beats and murders us in our own communities. It pumps drugs, liquor, and weapons into our neighborhoods, too; and through its culture industry it saturates our youth with decadent, hyper-capitalist values: all to keep us at each other's throats, instead of focused on the reasons that the great majority of us are poor and desperate.
If you try to build a lasting empire on something that unstable, you are practicing your jump shot on a tightrope. But if you really want peace, all this shit needs to be torn down, the land needs to be returned to the indigenous people, and African and Third World people who are now stuck here, need to be indemnified for 400 years of colonialism and slavery. We want the stolen gold of our ancestors to be re-distributed into a socialist economy, controlled by the masses of the colonized. We want a right of return to our native land (Africa) at this empire's expense, and we want all the foreign businesses and armies to pull the hell out, so we can build an All-African government by and for the great masses of workers, peasants, and lumpen. And if you can't do all that, you will not survive our wrath, because Minneapolis was just a foretaste.
And that's it. No more words for y'all. Just organization, communist political education, and whatever else we need on our side, to solve this problem we got. The ghettos of North America are strewn with Black gunpowder. All they need is a red spark.