Black Powder/Red Spark: Notes on Black Revolt
The ghettos of North America are strewn with Black gunpowder. All they need is a red spark.
“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.
But the events of late May/early June 2020 have found the Black masses moving very quickly, so I 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 across the country. They did this with a careful eye on those cities where the Black freedom struggle would likely take on a violent form, after 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, 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 fascist police, who occupy our community like foreign troops, the Black masses embodied the view of the African revolutionary Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), that non-violence should 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, also choked to death, screaming “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd’s murder by the state – and be not mistaken, this was state-sanctioned murder – is just the most prominent case in a pattern that's clear throughout Afro-America during the COVID-19 shutdown. The police have ramped up their presence in Black communities, using the 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 capricious and illegal use of force by the pigs to intimidate us in our neighborhoods 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 cases of police harassment and murder, led to 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 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 more force on our side, when we learn 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 let them think we would be brutalized and murdered into compliance. They have to know that no, we didn’t sign this 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 the empire's weakness for the world to see. A gesture 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 want to speak to its weaknesses.
Spontaneous fightback gives the measure of the people’s willingness to listen to revolutionary alternatives, but it's not the same as revolution. More usually, because of the lethargy of the socialist movement in the US, these energies are wasted in the fight for reforms.
I hope everybody now understands, though, that the system does not have a real response to this latest crisis, except more and greater repression. Their resources are tied up in sustaining a flagging economy, and the fascist scum Donald Trump is in no mood to play LBJ in response to urban rebellions. Witness his recent invocation of the Insurrection Act, which would give the US president power to use the military to suppress “citizen” protests (and which has not been implemented since 1941).
Anyway, there will be no reforms that will make it safer for Black people, and activists need to drum this into 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 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 in line in the post-bellum period, when we were given sharecropping 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 these 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 lawless violence. But join a revolutionary organization and you will find out 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 them correct what they 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 first clue about its real arguments).
White leftists who talk about how the recent conflagrations are a "class war" need to know 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 that has to do with a racial division of labor that extends back to slavery and Jim Crow, whose effects cannot be wished away by earnestness. The need to front like it's all the same fight is not just idealist, but also it indicates an unwillingness to goddamn listen when we explain the difference. That needs to change, or y'all gotta go.
There are white radical organizations, like 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 African people with the forces lined against us, which historically include the white worker, too.
If “revolutionary” whites don’t want to unite with that, then tell them keep the Panthers’ names out their mouths, because that 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 Newton said; and we will form the theory and the practice that will bring about our own 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 lies told by neo-colonialists 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 white rulers. The past few months have shown us the exact value of Babylon's riches when everyday people are stuck in our homes, or we are angrily filling the 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 entertainer who raised their voice against this mighty tide, has been hissed and booed back to the shadow of their Grecian pillar. While poor, humble people, once anonymous targets of state violence, are now sacralized by the great masses; and their cult is elevated with every fist, brick, knife, and anything else we thrust at a damn pig.
The last shall be first, for real. Let us look at the poorest, the most desperate and vulnerable among us, as symbols of everything we are living, fighting, and dying for; and may we never be tempted by the cheap display and mellifluous appeal of imperial stooges.
Now, to the white nation. Know that your charmed life is built on contradictions that it cannot resolve. It brought Black people here to build the homes, the towns and cities, the agriculture and factories, the whole commercial sector on the cheap, and acts like it does us a favor by pressing us down into ghettos, instead of shipping us "back where we came from." It keeps us landless and artificially unemployed, so we can be moved around at the leisure of the economy, so we can enrich the landlords and petty merchants. It mass incarcerates, harasses, beats and murders us in our own communities. It pumps drugs, liquor, and weapons in our neighborhoods too; and through its culture industry it saturates our children with decadent, hyper-capitalist values – all to keep us at each other's throats, instead of focusing on reasons the majority of us are poor, and hungry for an individual come-up.
If you hope to build an empire on something that unstable, then you practicing your jump shot on a tightrope. But if you really want peace, all this shit needs to be torn down, the land returned to the Indigenous people, and Black and Third World people who are now stuck here, should be indemnified for 400 years of colonialism and slavery.
We want our ancestors' stolen gold to be re-distributed in a socialist economy, controlled by the colonized masses. We want a right of return to our native African lands at this empire's expense. We also want foreign businesses and armies to pull the hell out of our homeland, so we can peacefully build an all-African government and economy by and for the masses of workers, peasants, and lumpen, who are the future of this planet.
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. Only organization, communist political education, and anything 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.