Statement on George Floyd Protests

Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Marcus-David Peters, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

A litany of murdered African Americans, all victims of extrajudicial execution and state-sanctioned racist violence. All of us who march and demonstrate know at some level that these lynchings aren’t the product of individual racists in law enforcement – that the entire system of law enforcement agencies from state and local police to the FBI and ICE is guilty. But liberal reformists and opportunistic corporate marketing teams want the conversation to stop here. “If only we banned chokeholds and had civilian review boards, we could solve police brutality of Black and Brown people.” If only white allies had more yard signs and voted Democrat. Reformist non-profits and politicians are lining up to co-opt the mass demonstrations and public outrage into things that serve their own aims and interests. Just consider Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who allowed Dominion Power’s CEO to select the superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, used all of his political capital to advocate for the Navy Hill ‘development’, and effectively ignored the murder of Marcus David Peters by the RPD until it was politically expedient to do otherwise. Does anyone really believe such an opportunistic politician so thoroughly identified with Richmond’s business class will stand for real solutions to the problems Black workers in our city face?

Let’s be clear: we are not opposed to reforms, but we know that these reforms will not fundamentally transform the relationship of law enforcement to Black and Brown communities, particularly working class Black and Brown communities.

To take just one example, civilian review boards have not been very effective in the cities that have them – including Minneapolis. And there is a reason for this: the state itself is an organisation of violence for the suppression of some class. It is far from neutral or objective; it is the means by which one class – the ruling class – maintains its interests over others. Under capitalism, capitalists are the ruling class, and they use state institutions like police to protect their interests through violence. Their interests are necessarily based in the exploitation and oppression of the working class – and racism is one of the strongest tools used to prevent the organization of the working class. The vast surplus capital reserves of this nation were built by slavery, the extermination of indigenous peoples, and the exploitation of workers of all races – but especially of Black and Brown workers, who are disproportionately victims of state-sanctioned violence and suppression.

As long as capitalism and capitalist states exist, this violence will persist. We cannot expect the capitalist state or the officials who serve it to abolish the police for us – the police can only be done away with when the capitalist state is overthrown and a classless society is consciously built. Whether through disproportionate exposure to COVID-19 in low-wage “essential” service sector occupations or direct violence in the streets over loosies and stolen cigarillos, it’s clear that Black and Brown lives do not matter to the powers that be in our capitalist society. Let us not forget that George Floyd had recently been laid off and was murdered for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill…

Protestors who spontaneously smashed corporate retail stores and restaurants, ’boutique’ businesses, convenience stores, police precincts, and confederate monuments show at least some rudimentary understanding of this. As James Baldwin told Esquire in 1968:

[…] how would you define somebody who puts a cat where he is and takes all the money out of the ghetto where he makes it? Who is looting whom?[…] After all, you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting.

While the liberal petit-bourgeoisie, both white and Black, decry destruction and looting as the acts of ‘outside agitators’ and ‘criminals’ and tendentiously affirm their support for “peaceful protests,” the reality is these are capitalism’s chickens coming home to roost. All revolutionaries should support uprisings against racism, but we know that no popular upsurge is permanent. This is precisely why the Black Panther Party expanded rapidly and attracted countless supporters in the aftermath of the urban rebellions of the 1960s – it spoke to the need to direct the energy of these uprisings into well-organized groups with a coherent political vision.

We must go further still. The speed with which the protests have been suppressed and co-opted proves to us that a multiracial vanguard party which fuses revolutionaries from every section of the American working class into a single movement under a revolutionary Marxist program is desperately needed. Only such a party will be able to go beyond uprisings against individual aspects of capitalism to a direct confrontation with this system. Only such a party can smash capitalism and replace it. We must build this party now.

So where do we go from here? How do we build on the massive waves of protests in ways that will allow us to continue to advance the cause of Black and Brown workers? The state and liberal petit-bourgeoisie will continue their efforts to dissipate this anger by performative acts of solidarity and granting minimal reforms. Soon, ‘organizers’ and ‘community leaders’ will use megaphones to exhort us to vote for Democrats who will only pay us lip service and act against our interests in office. To avoid this and consolidate our gains, we need to build on the power we’ve seen in the streets and organize! It’s not enough to politely ask our employers and the state to stop murdering us…

We need organizations that militantly advance our interests, like the Black Panther Party did. We need to rebuild a militant labor movement that directly combats the special oppression of Black and Brown people; we need Black and Brown leaders within this labor movement, who organize their workplaces and speak to their specific experience of capitalism.

To this end, we call on labor union members to agitate within their local to adopt a militant anti-racist line; this must be made public knowledge through the issuance of statements expressly opposing the special oppression of Black and Brown workers. Moreover, this must be backed up by commitments to action, to act in the material interests of Black and Brown workers. We call on labor unions to refuse to provide services to law enforcement agencies and demand that police ‘unions’ be kicked out of the AFL-CIO.

Restaurant workers, food processing workers, housekeepers, grounds maintenance workers, nurses, home health aides, waste collectors – we can meet with you to help you organize your workplace.

Lastly, we call on everyone to demand state and municipal restrictions to prevent police departments from purchasing or using military weaponry. We must fight to decrease the size, scope, and funding to our local police departments, always with an eye toward a future without police. We must demand decarceration, which has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown (particularly Black) populations. The National Guard and federal law enforcement agencies must be removed from our communities now.

None of these in themselves will be enough – but these are the first steps we can take towards building power. We would like to eventually see Black Panther Party-style “serve the people” and “survival programs” and Popular Assemblies in our neighborhoods.