The real education of the masses can never be separated from their independent political, and especially revolutionary struggle. Only struggle educates the exploited class. Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizons, enhances the abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will. —V. I. Lenin
The recent upsurge of U.S. workers and people has brought to the fore the revolutionary potential of our class and people. Change comes with political movements, movements that unite the working class itself and the working class with its allies.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to condemn police violence and murders across our nation. For weeks since May 25 in every city, town, and burb, people and even businesses have declared their collective disapproval of police conduct and embraced the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” This outpouring of solidarity represents a moment in our history when our accumulated experience is sparked by an event—the police murder of George Floyd. How did we get here, and what will help us make change?
The United States is more than 400 years in the making. For nearly a century the U.S. has been ascending or atop the prosperous and dominating nations. The landing of Africans in chains early in the 1600s was the decisive act that would make the U.S. a wealthy, imperialist power. The accumulation from slavery and the slave trade resulted in enormous wealth for Northern and Southern capital. This is what political economists call primitive accumulation.
U.S. capitalism since the defeat of slavery has deftly developed racism to subjugate and divide Black citizens to hamper their freedom and, more broadly, the working-class struggle. The ultimate end was to reap extra profits. Freed Black men were assigned the hardest, dirtiest work and paid wages less than those of white workers—justified by the abhorrent ideas derived from the legalization of slavery. They were fair game for taking by white people with or without a gun through a system of convict leasing. Imprisoned for spurious reasons like “loitering,” Black men especially were then hired out as free labor to owners of pine tar camps, farms, and sawmills. This and other forms of discrimination resulted in the modern-day wage, benefits, and wealth gap between Black and white people. In 2020 the net worth of a typical white family is ten times that of a Black family’s.
We look to the past, to practice, and to our experience to better understand. How is it that after the defeat of slavery, after Reconstruction, after the heroic anti–Jim Crow struggles, and after the battles for the right to vote, for affirmative action, and for inclusion in the life and work of the nation, African Americans are still subject to dehumanization, to racism by virtually all institutions in our society? This remains our question to answer.
The fates of men and women of color are the measure of racism that endures. Law and custom nurtured the big lie that Black people were inferior to whites. Throughout four centuries of evolving, this overarching idea has endured. To be sure the lie is not always expressed in the same ways, but in 2020 the core and practice of white supremacy remain.
Like other phenomena, racist ideology is subject to the pressures of struggle. The big lie is under wide discussion and is being rejected by hundreds of thousands of white citizens. In 2013 the slogan and organization Black Lives Matter was born. Derided by some, Black Lives Matter has become the slogan of choice, a rallying call of demonstrators filling the streets, and a broadly accepted driving force for change.
A new movement is emerging, one that embraces a new majority. State, local, and regional organizations representing millions of workers, including unions, have taken this moment to respond. Statements issued by the AFL-CIO and its affiliates throughout the country are declaring and explaining that racism is the enemy of organized workers, working-class people, Black, white, and brown. Building and cementing the unity of working-class people in the fight to change racist practices is a requirement of successful struggle.
In state legislatures, local communities, and in Congress, legislative proposals are being introduced to alter the relationship between law enforcement and the population. These proposals embody the ideas expressed boldly by the African American community and their allies.
Embracing change requires us to look at the obstacles to enacting change. The most immediate obstacle is Donald Trump and his Republican accomplices, who have become the standard bearers for racism, fossil fuels, corruption, corporate looting and profiteering, immigrant bashing, misogyny, nuclear and space militarization, and anti-scientific ideas that continue the life of the COVID-19 pandemic. These indefensible and anti-human policies are emblematic of advanced and decaying capitalism.
This, then, is the job of the massive movement of the American people—to rid our nation of forces who stand in the way of life, liberty, and democracy.
Ending Trump’s presidency must be job #1.
The promise of our future is in the hands of the movements, the organizations, and the people. What shall we do? First, we must end the Trump administration with all its racist rhetoric and vile politics and compel an agenda that we in our great majority demand. We appeal to millions who are starved for adequate pay, for jobs, health care, equality, and the right to belong to a union. The great majority of the American people want to defeat the incompetent racist who champions symbols of long-ago defeated traitors.
A resounding vote to end Trump’s presidency must be job #1. The tasks before us in the coming months are to organize the vote and develop progressive demands. One must not take for granted that the work is done after November 3.