Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fences



Written by August Wilson

Directed by Denzel Washington

Starring: Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson
Viola Davis as Rose Maxson
Russell Hornsby as Lyons Maxson
Jovan Adepo as Cory Maxson

A historical view of a wonderful film

This review is for people who have already seen the film Fences.  The review will mention areas of the story plot that someone who hasn’t seen the film might want to see on the screen for the first time.  So, if you’ve already seen the film continue reading, but if you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it and perhaps you might want to read my review afterwards.

Fences – The play by August Wilson

This film is one of the few truly wonderful films in the theaters today.  It is the story of Troy Maxson who is played by Denzel Washington, his relationship to a friend and his family.  August Wilson’s plays were based on his experiences growing up in the Black community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  

Troy Maxson’s father was a share-cropper in one of the states where Jim Crow segregation was the law.  This meant that his father routinely did arduous work for a wage that kept him in continual debt.  Education, as well as health care, were things that were almost unknown to those who toiled under these conditions.  Troy Maxson was one of 11 children that his parents raised.

We might consider that when we look at the enormous wealth that exists in this country, one of the foundations of this wealth came from the labor of Black people.  During the times of slavery about 75% of the income of this country came from slave labor plantations. 

After the Civil War the cloths people wore came from cotton picked by Black people.  Some of the dirtiest jobs in the industries of this country were performed by Black people.  So, when we speak of the lives of Troy Maxson and his father, we are talking about people who played an invaluable role in creating the enormous wealth that has always existed in this country.

Troy Maxson found the conditions of Jim Crow segregation to be intolerable, so he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Here young Troy found no opportunities for a young Black man to make a living, so he resorted to a life of crime.  He then served fifteen years in prison.  Upon leaving prison he became one of the best baseball players in the Negro Leagues.  However, the so-called big leagues preferred to hire mediocre caucasian players rather than some of the best players in the Negro Leagues.  Faced with this reality Troy saw how he could become a sanitation worker or live a life of crime where he would most likely return to prison.  He chose to become a sanitation worker.

After working for a number of years as a sanitation worker, Troy asked a supervisor why all of the truck drivers were white and all of those who dumped the trash were Black.  He eventually received a promotion to become a driver.

Seeing these events we might also think about the events that were unfolding in the mid 1950s.  After the Second World War hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike and shut down entire industries.  Employers reaped super-profits during the war and workers felt that they deserved an improved standard of living.  Those strikes forced employers to recognize unions and workers won major concessions.

Also in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  Her action, as well as the organizing of a local chapter of the NAACP led to the 381 day Montgomery Buss Boycott.  This action forced Montgomery officials to reverse the law requiring Black people to sit on the back of the buss.  The strike wave of those years as well as the Montgomery Buss Boycott might have influenced Pittsburgh city officials to give Troy Maxson a promotion to become a driver.

In another scene in the film Troy’s son Cory had the possibility of a football scholarship at a university.  In order to qualify for this scholarship, Cory needed to cut back on his hours working at a local supermarket in order to play high school football.  Troy was stubbornly opposed to Cory cutting back on his hours at the supermarket. 

Troy had been a star baseball player and this only led to disappointment when it came to making a living.  He felt that the scholarship for his son would lead to a similar disappointment.  Clearly, Cory and his mother Rose adamantly opposed Troy’s position on this issue.

There was a parallel debate on this issue between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.  Washington was the leader of the Tuskegee Institute and he advocated for teaching students the manual arts that would qualify them for the only jobs available Black people in a racist nation.

W.E.B. DuBois was a founding member of the NAACP and he felt that Black people should have the right to pursue their education to the highest level.  He argued that the task of education, “is not to teach men to become carpenters, but to teach carpenters to become men.”

We might keep in mind that Washington received substantial support from several of the capitalists of his day.  In his later life, the government placed DuBois on trial for his political activities.  The charges against DuBois were dropped after a trial that lasted nine months.  We might also consider that it was the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the example of Malcolm X that made Booker T. Washington’s arguments largely irrelevant.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X also lived at the times portrayed in the film Fences.  One big difference was that his parents were not only educated, but they were both followers of Marcus Garvey.  Garvey was the leader of the largest Black organization in the history of this country.

In his autobiography Malcolm argued that it was fairly common for the Black community of Harlem, New York to live outside the law.  Malcolm gave his reasons for why this was the case.

He said that when he attended school he was called the n­—word so often, he thought that this was his name.  When he told a teacher that he wanted to become a lawyer, the teacher responded, “that’s no job for a n—word, you’re good with your hands and you can become a carpenter.”  As I’ve mentioned, this was a common idea in those days.  So Malcolm became something similar to a corporate lawyer.  He worked as a thief.

Because of the racist so-called “justice system” in this country, after Malcolm was apprehended his sentence was much longer because he was dating a caucasian woman.

While in prison, Malcolm educated himself and gravitated to the Nation of Islam.  The NOA had a similar philosophy as Marcus Garvey and advocated for Black control of the Black community.  However, one of the limitations of the NOA was that it refrained from political activity.  Eventually, Malcolm developed disagreements with the NOA and formed an new political organization.

When we look at the life of Malcolm X, we can see how the problems portrayed in the film Fences can be resolved.  In fact the title, Fences for me is symbolic of all the obstacles facing the Black community.

Malcolm believed that it was possible for Black people to become a part of an international movement aimed at liberation.  He understood that Black people have the potential to organize a movement that can achieve real liberation.  He wasn’t about teaching people about their oppression.  No, he argued that when you teach people about their worth, their heritage, and their humanity, then you will get action.

I will end this review with a 1965 quotation from James Baldwin who had been inspired by the life of Malcolm X.  This quotation not only gives perspective to the film Fences, it offers insight into the world we live in today:

“Power, then, which can have no morality itself, is yet dependent on human energy, on the wills and desires of human beings.  When power translates itself into tyranny, it means that the principles on which that power depended, and which were its justification, are bankrupt.  When this happens, and it is happening now, power can only be defended by thugs and mediocrities––and seas of blood.  The representatives of the status quo are sickened and divided, and dread looking into the eyes of their young; while the excluded begin to realize, having endured everything, that they can endure everything.  They do not know the precise shape of the future, but they know that the future belongs to them.  They realize this––paradoxically––by the failure of the moral energy of their oppressors and begin, almost instinctively, to forge a new morality, to create the principals on which a new world will be built.”         




Monday, December 12, 2016

Katherine Dunham



A review of her biography

Ruth Beckford’s biography of Katherine Dunham shows how she was a genuine heroine who introduced African dance styles to this country

If we listen to the Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll, Rapp, Jazz, Reggae, or Latin Music, we are listening to the sounds that originated in Africa.  When people listened to African music, they weren’t doing this sitting down.  Ruth Beckford wrote her 1979, 130 page biography of Katherine Dunham, who was most responsible for introducing African dance styles to this country.

Katherine Dunham was born in 1909 in Chicago and raised in Joliet Illinois.  Dunham’s father was abusive and determined to prevent his daughter from dancing.  Dunham also had a lifelong problem with her knees that made it difficult for her to dance.  However, Dunham’s determination was strong and she earned a scholarship to study anthropology at the University of Chicago. 

At the University of Chicago Dunham continued to study dance and eventually opened her own studio.  She applied for a Rosenwald Travel Fellowship and gave a dance performance for her application.  Dunham first gave a sample of ballet, then a sample of modern dance, and then a sample of African dance.  Her performance blew the Rosenwald judges away, and Dunham won her fellowship to travel to Jamaca, Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti, and Martinique.

Dunham was most inspired by the dance of Haiti.  Haiti had experienced a revolution against colonialism and slavery in the 19th century.  The Hatian people were proud of the fact that they maintained many of their African traditions.  Dunham studied the dances of Haiti for several months and eventually would live on the island.

Her studies on these islands led to the publication of three books: Journey to Accompong (1946), The Dances of Haiti (her master’s thesis published in 1947), and Island possessed (1969).

For about 40 years Dunham managed and performed with her African styled dance troop.  These performances took her around the world.  However, Dunham never missed a chance to protest against the racial injustice.

When she performed in the South, Jim Crow segregation was the law.  This meant that there was segregated seating for her audiences.  Upon entering a southern city, Dunham would meet with the NAACP or the Urban League in the morning.  Then, she would organize a demonstration in the afternoon against the segregated seating arrangements in the auditorium where she would perform.  If at least one Black person was not sitting in a white restricted area, Dunham would not perform. 

Dunham even brought a lawsuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil against discrimination.  This lawsuit prompted the Brazilian President to pass a law that prohibited discrimination in public places.

In her Negro Dance Troop she brought the Caribbean dance styles around the world.  She performed Negro Dance Evening and Haitian Suite.  In 1939 she opened Tropics and Le Jazz Hot: From Haiti to Harlem.  Folk dances and rhythms were presented with lavish costumes and a touch of American showbiz.  Dunham received her best reviews for Bal Negre, performed in 1946, featuring the dance “Shango.”   

Dunham angered the U.S. State department with her production Southland that portrayed lynching in the United States.  Southland would only be performed in Chile and Paris.

In 1967 Dunham decided to end her forty-year career touring the world with her dance company.  She moved to East St. Louis and opened a dance studio for the people of that city. 

On her first day in East St. Louis, she was recruiting gang members to learn the dance in a program sponsored by a local university.  That day there was a police round-up, and many of the gang members she hoped to recruit were taken into police custody.  This infuriated Dunham.  She attempted to organize a protest demonstration and went to the police station herself.  The police resented her protest and Dunham spent the night in jail.  Three months later the Mayor of East St. Louis presented Dunham with the key to the city.

In February of 1992 Dunham, at the age of 82, went on a 47 day fast in her home in East St. Louis.  The elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been overthrown.  Many Haitians fled their homeland in fear of the repression they expected.  The Administration of President William Clinton ordered Haitians seeking asylum to be sent back to Haiti.  Dunham only ended her fast when President Aristide visited her home and asked her to stop.

Dancing is an often neglected part of our lives.  Katherine Dunham dedicated her life to introducing the world to a style of dance people found electrifying.  While performing her craft she battled all the political and economic obstacles that stood in her path.  While most people do not know her name, she was a genuine heroine of our times.             

Katherine Dunham – A biography
Copyright 1979 by Ruth Beckford

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Marcel Dekker, Inc.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What can we expect from President Donald Trump?



There are a few aspects of the election campaigns that I always find particularly disturbing.  We are barraged with information about the democrats and republicans who are running for office, yet the most important issues are never mentioned.

I believe in the union phrase that says: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”  We will notice that this sentence is not, an injury to one American.  No, the original concept of the labor movement was that this is an international struggle.  Keeping this in mind, let’s look at some of the most important issues facing workers and farmers in the world.

·      About half of the people on this planet live on two dollars per day or less.

·      Every day about 30,000 children die of preventable diseases.  One of the primary causes of these deaths is that these children did not have access to shoes.  Parasites enter the feet of a child.  This causes diarrhea that can lead to death from dehydration.

·      There are hundreds of millions of people in the world who do not have adequate access to water, electricity, or food.

·      Yet the United States government has spent hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars on war.  These wars cost the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and millions of people throughout the world.

·      Despite what the media has been arguing, the standard of living in this country has been declining over the past forty years.  When we count those who have exhausted unemployment benefits, the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the depression of the 1930s. 

Since those candidates who received publicity in the media were totally indifferent to these issues, there was never even a remote possibility that the new president would even attempt to deal with the world’s most pressing problems.

On the night of the elections I went to bed before the news media announced the outcome.  I went to bed knowing that it made no significant difference who was elected.

The next morning I was surprised to learn that Donald Trump would be the next President.  My immediate reaction was that he will just be another President who favors corporate interests above the interests of workers.

On that same day, our dog Rosie had a surgery for a tooth extraction.  Aside from the astronomical cost of the surgery, everything went well and Rosie is back to her old self.

Why do I mention Rosie’s surgery in this column?  Well, Rosie brings a sense of joy to people.  According to the newspapers and my personal discussions, most people felt that the election was about deciding on a lesser evil.  When you vote for a lesser evil, there is a guarantee that you will get evil.  So, this is why I felt Rosie’s surgery was more significant than whether a democrat or republican will be living in the White House.

Clearly, there are many people who are correct when they argue that Donald Trump is openly racist.  Black people in this country have had decades of experience with openly racist politicians, and they justifiably resent having to deal with this again.

Malcolm X spoke to this point and I will paraphrase his remarks.  Malcolm argued that Senator Barry Goldwater made no pretense that he supported the interests of Black people.  Goldwater was opposed to the Civil Rights Act and would have preferred that the Jim Crow laws remain in place. 

When Goldwater ran for President, Malcolm argued that if he were elected, this might be, in a way better for Black people.  His argument was that the only way for Black people to win meaningful concessions from a President Goldwater would be to organize.  Organizing people in mass movements has had meaningful results.  Relying on liberal democrats to make meaningful change is almost like waiting for a goose to lay a golden egg.
     
Clearly there are many who disagree with this perspective.  They might argue that Hillary Clinton would not be as horrendous a President as Donald Trump.  Allow me to give just one example to explain why I feel that Clinton would not be significantly different from Trump.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton was the closest adviser to her husband President William Clinton.  She supported him when he enforced an economic boycott of Iraq.  That boycott cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

While Hillary Clinton supported this boycott, she wrote a book titled: It Takes A Village.  This is a how-to book about raising children and argues that it takes a village to raise a child.

How could Clinton support a policy that, in effect, murdered hundreds of thousands of children, and at the same time write a how-to book on how to raise children?  The answer is that Hillary Clinton, like all capitalist politicians, lives in complete denial that they are responsible for their actions.

President Donald Trump

Donald Trump was raised in a wealthy family.  These families typically give their children what they want, when they want it.  It is difficult for a working person to even imagine what it would be like to be raised in this kind of environment.  Imagine never having to do anything that a boss tells you to do.  In other words, Donald Trump was raised in a world totally divorced from the lives of working people.

I would imagine that children who are raised with obscene amounts of wealth, at one time or another ask a basic question.  Why isn’t everyone wealthy?  The answer given to these children is that their parents worked hard for the wealth they have.  They are told that they are deserving and entitled to the wealth they have.  Any other answer to this question would not appear to be acceptable in the environment of the super-rich.

The facts are that working people are the ones who produce all the goods and services we need and want.  Capitalists like Donald Trump never actually work to produce these goods and services.  Capitalists take the wealth produced by working people and use it for their own benefit.  This is how the system of capitalism works.

The news media attacked Donald Trump because he didn’t pay taxes for many years.  The facts are that the number one priority of any capitalist government is to promote an environment that is suitable for corporate investment.  In Philadelphia corporations enjoy hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatements.  Any corporation that builds in the city doesn’t need to pay taxes for ten years.

What I find more interesting is a question the news media never raised.  Trump didn’t need to pay taxes for years because his company lost hundreds of millions of dollars.  So, why would anyone invest with someone who lost so much money?

Communists argue that the system of capitalism is a roadblock for the advancement of humanity.  One reason for this is that capitalism will inevitably move towards total economic crisis.  The depression of the 1930s didn’t happen because capitalists failed in what they were doing.  No, that depression erupted because it was the inevitable consequence of successful corporate business practices.  Capitalists invested with Trump, no doubt, because all investments today are inherently risky.

During Trump’s campaign for President he argued that when he was elected he would place a steep tariff on imports from other countries.  He thinks that this will spark corporate investment in this country.

Well, the facts are that capitalists made massive investments in other countries because if they didn’t, they would have gone bankrupt.  In capitalism the percentage of profit on investment continually declines.  So, when the labor movement forced employers to raise wages, employers invested in building factories where workers receive about $2 per day in wages.  Forcing corporations to give up foreign investments ignores the reason why they made those investments in the first place.

Donald Trump also argued that he will deport the twelve million immigrants who live in this country.  We might consider that President Obama deported more immigrants than any other President. 

Thousands of the immigrants Obama deported have children who were born in this country.  When this happens, the children are sent to foster care, while the parents might never see their children again.  This is just one of the horror stories authored by President Barack Obama’s Administration.  Apparently Donald Trump is not satisfied with this horror story.  He wants to multiply this story many times over.

The twelve million immigrants living in this country have many friends.  These immigrants and their friends will create a powerful movement to prevent these deportations. 

There is another problem with Trump’s promise to deport all immigrants.  Immigrant workers are central to many corporations in this country.  I’m talking about agriculture, construction, meatpacking, restaurants, garment, and housekeeping.  Immigrant workers are also central to highly skilled work in research and development projects.  In other words, deporting twelve million immigrants would not just be a horror story, these deportations would destroy the economy.

Moments of truth

When Barack Obama ran against John McCain for President in 2008 the financial markets of the world began to fall apart.  Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson drafted a bill that would give about $700 billion to the banks that had lost immense amounts of money.  Since about half of the financial assets in this country are controlled by one-percent of the population, the lions share of this money would go to the super-rich.  Congress initially refused to hand over the money.

John McCain and Barack Obama both understood that their job is to promote an environment suitable for capitalist investment.  So, they both interrupted their Presidential campaigns to shake down Congress for $700 million.  The alternative would have been that more large banks would have gone bankrupt.

As I’ve attempted to show in this column, capitalists are not interested in the welfare of human life.  They are only interested in the maximization of their profits.

I’ve also attempted to show that if President Trump follows through with his plans, this would have a disastrous effect, not only on humanity, but also on the economy.  Sooner or later, I believe someone will sit down with President Trump and inform him that he needs to abandon his crackpot ideas or there will be dire consequences.  When capitalists do not see a way of turning a profit, they simply will not invest and would prefer to shut down the economy.

How will President Trump respond to this point of view?  We don’t know the answer to this question.  What we do know is that he might be more unpredictable than any other president in recent history.

What we do know is that the capitalist system has its laws.  In their Communist Manifesto Karl Marx and Frederick Engels argued that capitalism has a disease that has never appeared before in human history.  This is the disease of overproduction.  When there are more commodities on the market than people will buy those commodities, capitalists will refuse to invest.  Banks can close down and the economy, sooner or later, will collapse.  This is inevitable. 

Even though there is only a very small percentage of the population that supports the idea of a workers government, this perspective will win millions of adherents when workers begin to understand that we have no future in the capitalist system.

Understanding the fact that the capitalist system is in crisis explains why most capitalists supported Hillary Clinton for President.  At this point in time, they want someone who they who has proven themselves to support their interests.  Donald Trump, while he has dedicated his life to supporting capitalism, is unpredictable and could clearly spark an economic collapse.        

What does it mean to be a communist?

In my opinion the only answer to this enormous problem is to place a workers government in power.  There are those who will argue that many workers voted for Donald Trump, so why would I think that a workers government will be any better than what we have today?

We might think of our history for a moment in order to answer this question.  There were long periods of time when people adapted to the horrendous regimes of feudalism and slavery.  However, the time came when masses of people organized to overthrow these regimes.

The labor movement suffered through fifty-seven years of defeats before millions of workers joined unions and forced employers to make real concessions.  Black people experienced decades of Jim Crow segregation before the civil rights movement erupted.  This is how history has unfolded.

Working people voted for Donald Trump because they mistakenly believed that he will bring about meaningful change.  Workers who voted for Hillary Clinton were under similar illusions.  I don’t believe it will take much time for workers to become disenchanted with President Trump.

Communists believe that working people have the capacity to transform the world.  There will be real battles in our future.  The capitalist system offers absolutely no solutions. 

I wrote in the names of Alyson Kennedy for President and Osborne Hart for President and Vise-President.  They were the candidates of the Socialist Workers Party.  While I didn’t think they will be elected to the White House, I do believe that they were the best possible choice for that office.  They have confidence that workers have the potential to change the world and that the only way to make meaningful change is through mass movements and not elections. 
     

Saturday, November 5, 2016

13th



A 2016 documentary directed by Ava DuVernay

Distributed by Netflix

A review

Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th uncovers an important side of the history of this country that is usually ignored by both the media and the academic community.  Most people who are familiar with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution think of it as the law that abolished slavery in this country. 

However, there is an exception to this amendment that states: “except as a punishment for crime; whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”  So, from a technical point of view, slavery in this country was never fully abolished.  While prisoners are supposed to have certain rights, the Thirteenth Amendment clearly argues for a system of slavery in the prisons.  The film 13th documents how government officials, including virtually all the recent Presidents, have targeted Black people in the skyrocketing growth of the prison population.

My opinion is that while we need to fully understand the facts presented in the film 13th, this film gives an incomplete examination of the core reasons for this problem.  My opinion is that the root cause of discrimination comes from the routine functioning of the capitalist system. 

Without understanding the cause of why discrimination continues to exist in this country, it is difficult to think about solutions.  Another weakness of the film is that it offers no clear solutions for the horrendous problem of discrimination.

In order to place this film in perspective, I believe we need to look at a bit of history.

The Thirteenth Amendment

In 2012 Steven Spielberg directed his film Lincoln.  This film is a portrayal of how President Abraham Lincoln worked to make the abolition of slavery an Amendment to the Constitution.  We should keep in mind that this amendment was the culmination of hundreds of years of struggle by abolitionists.  We should also keep in mind that the primary issue of the Civil War was the issue of slavery.

Before the Civil War, slave owners wanted the United States to have an agrarian based economy centered on chattel slavery.  In fact, before the Civil War about 75 percent of the income of this country came from slave labor camps.  Supporters of slavery dominated virtually all branches of the federal government. 

Northern capitalists had a completely different idea of how this country should develop.  They were developing an industrial based economy that was in sharp conflict with slavery.  While many banks gained substantial profits from slavery, northern capitalists became open to the idea of pushing the slave owners out of their positions of power.

Nate Parker’s new film The Birth of a Nation documents one of the most famous slave rebellions in this history of this country.  We might consider that this rebellion was one of numerous slave rebellions in North America, South America, and the Caribbean.  We might also consider that about 350,000 union soldiers lost their lives in the war to remove slave owners from their positions of power.

President Abraham Lincoln stated openly that the primary reason for his Emancipation Proclamation was to win the Civil War.  The union army had lost vast numbers of soldiers because of death, injury, or desertion.  There were 179,000 Black soldiers who fought and were eager to fight for the union army.  This was about ten percent of the total number of union soldiers.  The participation of these soldiers was crucial to the union victory.

After the Civil War reconstruction governments emerged in the former slave states.  Because Black people had the right to vote and soldiers from the confederate army lost their right to vote, many former slaves became government leaders. These governments worked aggressively to educate the entire population (both Black and caucasian) that was largely illiterate.  The reconstruction governments also instituted many other reforms that were profound changes from the past.

Then, by 1877 the same Republican Party that organized the union army to defeat the slave owners, made a deal that allowed union troops to leave the former confederate states.  This deal changed the balance of power in the South.  Racist and terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan used their military advantage to take power by force. 

The new power structure of the South was based around the Democratic Party that made Jim Crow segregation the law.  Black people effectively lost citizenship rights in this country.  Thousands were lynched and the federal government did nothing to prosecute the murderers.

The civil rights movement and the rebellions of the 1960’s

In August of 1955 white men brutalized and then lynched Emmitt Till.  When people throughout the country saw the disfigured corpse of 14 year-old Emmitt Till, many understood that the time had come to organize to make a change.  By December of that year, Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of a bus and the Montgomery Bus Boycott erupted.

The Ku Klux Klan along with the Democratic Party were determined to continue to deny Black people citizenship rights in this country.  Civil rights volunteers were arrested, brutalized, and murdered.  However, the movement refused to back down and the federal government was terrified of the idea of a new Civil War.

For these reasons President Lyndon Johnson, who had a segregationist background from Texas, signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  These laws effectively did away with any legal pretext for Jim Crow segregation.  In fact, these laws merely repeated what had been established in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.  These amendments had been adopted after the Civil War, but with the defeat of radical reconstruction the federal government had no intention of enforcing them.

However, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts did nothing to eliminate the institutionalized discrimination in the northern cities.  In fact, Emmitt Till attended a segregated school in Chicago.

Shortly after the signing of the Voting Rights Act rebellions erupted in cities throughout the country.  While Jim Crow segregation had been outlawed, institutionalized racial discrimination continued with respect to housing, employment, education, as well as the due process of the law.  The primary issue that sparked these rebellions was police brutality. 

When I was fourteen years old in 1967, a rebellion erupted in my hometown of Newark, New Jersey.  At a time when the United States government was at war against the people of Vietnam, the Governor ordered the National Guard to go to war against the citizens of Newark.  Recently I’ve seen photos of tanks that were used in Newark against the people of the city in 1967.

Malcolm X had been assassinated shortly before the eruption of these rebellions.  At the time of his assassination, Malcolm was in the process of organizing the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  This organization was independent of the Democratic and Republican parties and was focused on the liberation of Black people.  Malcolm was also in solidarity with the anti-imperialist struggles that were erupting around the world.

Had Malcolm X lived we can speculate that the rage expressed in the rebellions of the 1960s could have been organized into a movement that demanded real change.  As it was, the ruling powers of this country had their own way of dealing with the uprisings in this country.

New strategies of the ruling class to drive down the standard of living

We might think about the fact that there was a time in the history of this country when working people needed to toil twelve to sixteen hours per day for a wage that wasn’t enough to feed a family.  These were the conditions that caused the labor movement to launch a strike wave that won significant concessions from employers.

The civil rights movement as well as the rebellions of the 1960s convinced the ruling powers that they needed to change their methods of discrimination.  On the one hand, they agreed to support affirmative action programs.  These programs allowed many Black people to get jobs as well as university educations they had been excluded from in the past. 

On the other hand, the government adopted laws that caused prison population to skyrocket.  The film 13th documents how the government instituted this policy, that made Black men a target of the so-called criminal justice system.
     
Corporations are continually driven to cut their operating costs.  This was the reason why corporations viewed the improved standard of living of Black and Caucasian workers to be intolerable.  Therefore corporations made massive investments to build factories where workers are paid two dollars or less per day.  As these companies invested their money overseas, they closed down many of their manufacturing facilities in this country.

Today, the Taiwan based company Foxconn or Hon Hai produces cell phones and computers for Apple, Samsung, and Dell.  The Apple Corporation is one of the most profitable in the world.  Yet Apple doesn’t employ workers to manufacture their products.  Corporations like Foxconn produce all Apple devices.

The other strategy used by corporations to counter the improved standard of living in this country was to increase the number of immigrants who work here.  The labor movement was slow to respond to this change and didn’t make much of an attempt to organize workers who were born in other countries.

Today immigrant workers do some of the most difficult jobs in agriculture, meatpacking, construction, and in the kitchens of restaurants.  Immigrants also work at highly technical jobs.  Because college education in this country is so expensive, graduates seek out the higher paying jobs.

We also know that the United States government has gone to war against several nations all over the world.  Thousands of soldiers lost their lives and hundreds of billions of dollars were allocated because of these wars.  As a result, millions of people lost their lives.  The idea that these resources could have been used to improve the standard of living in the world is inconceivable to those who support the capitalist system.  

So, when we look at the overall response of corporations and the government to the labor, civil rights, and woman’s movements, we see a clear trend.  While working people made gains because of decades of struggle, corporations did everything in their power to reverse these gains.             

What is the road to liberation?

Anyone who reads the newspapers in this country, or has received a so-called education is familiar with the following argument.  They say that all you need to do is to take responsibility for your life and everything will be all right.  You need to work hard in school and on the job.  Do what you are told and stay out of trouble.  Follow these rules and the “American Dream” of prosperity is waiting for you.

The film 13th effectively destroys that myth.  It gives the facts showing how Democratic and Republican administrations worked to vastly increase the prison population and target Black people.  This was not because of an increase in crime.  This was one way the ruling powers have used to drive down the standard of living. 

Black people have been some of the most militant defenders of human rights in this country.  This is another reason why they have been targeted by the government and sent to prison in disproportionate numbers.  In fact, Malcolm X served about ten years in prison.  His uncompromising tenacity enabled Malcolm to transform himself to become an international leader.

One of the commentators in the film 13th talked about how the Black Lives Matter movement has no organizational address.  The commentator argued that he felt that this is a good thing because of the fact that many Black leaders of the past have been targeted by the government and or assassinated. 

Clearly it is true that anyone who challenges the ruling powers in this country becomes a target.  Clearly it is true that Black people have historically born the brunt of the repressive powers of this country.  However, there is political space to advance a movement to liberate humanity.

The Militant newspaper has been in print for decades and supports the politics of the Socialist Workers Party.  Eighteen members of this party served time in prison because of their opposition to U.S. participation in the Second World War.  Today certain prison authorities are preventing prison inmates from reading The Militant.  Supporters of the paper have engaged in a campaign to force the government to allow inmates to read the paper.  This is a clear example of how activists can advance the struggle and be open about their politics.

Their politics and ours

The standard of living has been continuously deteriorating for the past forty years.  In 1971 tuition at Rutgers University was $200 for a New Jersey resident.  Now that same tuition is about $10,000.  So, if a worker had a salary of $10,000 per year in 1971, that worker would need a salary of $500,000 to have the same increase as the tuition increase at Rutgers University.

Understanding this, we can anticipate that the standard of living will continue to deteriorate.  As worker’s standard of living deteriorates, prices continue to increase.  Eventually there are more commodities on the market than there are people to purchase these commodities.

This is why corporations invest hundreds of billions of dollars in advertising.  They are continuously driven to sell every commodity they can.  However, these efforts can only lead to an eventual collapse of the economy.  When this happens the ruling powers can only demand more ruthless cuts in our living standard.  This is their only way of creating an environment they feel will be suitable for investment.

There is another way.  There have been many struggles throughout history demanding that working people be treated with the dignity we deserve.  There was the slave rebellion of Spartacus against the Roman Empire.  There was the revolution in the thirteen colonies that created this country.  There was the Civil War that took power away from slave owners.  There were also the labor, civil rights, Native American, and woman’s movements.  There have been other movements demanding human dignity throughout the world.

When we begin to understand this history, we can see that there is a clear road to the future.  Working people clearly have the capacity to end the system of capitalism in the world.  The government that promotes corporate profits can be replaced with a workers government that makes human needs it’s only goal.

This kind of government can use technological advancements to make work easier and more rewarding.  This kind of government has the potential to eliminate poverty.  This kind of government can do away with the source of discrimination against Blacks, women, immigrants, and Native Americans.  This kind of government can also work to begin to eliminate poverty throughout the world.  This kind of government can work to ensure that the environment will not be destroyed, and continues to serve as a home to all the organisms that live on this planet.

This choice will become clearer as time passes.  The ruling powers are in a crisis they are simple unable to resolve.  Only working people can organize to place a new kind of political economic system in place that can liberate the human race.               
      


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