Sunday, July 21, 2013

How might we respond to the murder of Trayvon Martin?

I attended a demonstration last week of people who were appalled at the Florida court decision that found the murderer of Trayvon Martin not guilty.  Clearly George Zimmerman stalked Martin and Trayvon made a phone call where he said he felt threatened by Zimmerman.  Clearly Zimmerman would not have stalked Martin if he was white.  Yet the judge in this case did not allow the issue of race to be mentioned in the trial.

Zimmerman claimed that he acted in self-defense.  However, in order to shoot Trayvon, he needed to take his gun out of the holster and release the safety.  This would have been extremely difficult if he acted in self-defense.  A police officer specifically told Zimmerman not to stalk Trayvon.  In other words, Zimmerman was a vigilante who had his gun out and cocked as he approached Trayvon.  This is clear evidence of premeditated murder.  

District Attorneys normally don’t have much trouble in sending people to prison.  In fact, anyone who lives in this country has a better chance of going to prison than citizens in any other nation in the world.  Black people are grossly over-represented in prison, and the Supreme Court has stated in their decision of McCleskey v. Kemp that they don’t have much problem with this.  Understanding this reality, we can see why so many people have been appalled when the world heard the verdict of not guilty in the murder case against George Zimmerman.

The proposals of how to respond

There have been several proposals as to how to respond to this appalling verdict.  Some people are organizing to repeal the Stand-Your-Ground laws.  These laws make it easier for vigilantes to take the law into their own hands and murder people like Trayvon Martin.

While I would applaud the rescinding of these laws, this will not solve the problems we face.  Police officers murdered Shawn Bell with fifty shots and they were found not guilty.  Police officers murdered Amadu Dialo with forty-one shots and they were found not guilty.  Police officers were filmed viciously beating Rodney King and they were found not guilty.  The repeal of the Stand-Your-Ground laws would not stop the murder of unarmed Black men by police officers.

There are people who demand that Attorney General Eric Holder charge Zimmerman with the hate crime of murdering Trayvon Martin because he was Black.  I would also support this course, but first we might consider the question: Who is Eric Holder?

Before Holder became Attorney General he worked for the law firm Covington & Burling.  Holder represented the corporation Chiquita Brands International.  Chiquita admitted to financing a terrorist organization known as the United Self Defense Forces of Columbia.  Holder brokered a deal where Chiquita paid out $25 million to make up for their support of these murderers. 

The estimate is that this organization murdered about 4,000 people.  Some of the people who this organization murdered attempted to improve the working conditions of banana workers who toiled for Chiquita.

I believe we might keep this in mind when thinking that Attorney General Eric Holder will in any way be interested in a meaningful interpretation of the word justice.  What can we expect from someone who takes money to defend the financiers of mass murderers?

Then, there are people who are working to boycott the state of Florida where the acquittal of Zimmerman took place.  Here we might learn from the words of Malcolm X who lived at a time of Jim Crow segregation.

Malcolm argued to: “Stop talking about the South.  If you’re south of Canada you’re in the South.”

Malcolm also argued against appealing to the federal government to enforce their civil rights laws.  Instead, he proposed appealing to the World Court to place the United States government on trial for human rights violations against the millions of Black people who live in this country.

So, the question continues to be: How do we respond to the murder of Trayvon Martin?  In order to begin to answer this question, we need to look at a bit of history.

Nat Truner, Denmark Vessey, and John Brown

Denmark Vessey and Nat Turner both organized slave rebellions.  State authorities organized their executions as well as the executions of their followers.

Even the Supreme Court in this country ruled in its Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, that they felt slaves were not human beings entitled to rights under the law.

John Brown organized an attack on a garrison at Harpers Ferry in Virginia.  This armed uprising attempted to capture arms that would be used to free slaves.  The uprising was defeated and Robert E. Lee was one of the commanding officers that captured John Brown and his followers.  Like Nat Turner and Denmark Vessey, the government ordered John Brown and his followers to be executed by hanging.
John Brown didn’t anticipate the fact that in just a few years millions of union soldiers would be mobilized to militarily defeat the slave owners.  In the end, it was Robert E. Lee that surrendered the Confederate army at the Appomatox Court House in Virginia.

After the Civil War, Reconstruction Governments emerged in the former Confederate states.  These governments were the most democratic in the history of this country.  For the first time, former slaves as well as poor whites learned how to read and there were many other progressive reforms.

Then, in 1877 the Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the union army to leave the former Confederate states.  This prompted a counter-revolutionary movement organized by forces that became the Ku Klux Klan.  New governments that enforced Jim Crow segregation replaced the Reconstruction governments.  The Supreme Court, in effect, reversed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution with their Plessey v. Ferguson decision.

All of this meant that while the Civil War ended slavery, Black people, in effect, lost citizenship rights in this country.  One of the effects of these events was that racist mobs murdered thousands of Black people, and the government almost never did anything about it. 

Ida Wells

Ida Wells was a Black journalist who investigated 728 lynchings in this country.   At the time, many prominent people argued that while these lynchings were wrong, Black men had a tendency to rape white women.  Ida Wells discovered that in one third of these lynchings Black men were not even accused of rape.  In fact, in many cases it was the white women who had pursued Black men.  On the other hand, Wells discovered that there was a long history of white men who raped Black women, where the government never prosecuted the rapists.

As a result of this rein of terror, Ida Wells encouraged Black people to leave her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.  Wells also advised Black people that: “A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every home.”  “When the white man .  .  .knows he runs as great a risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have a greater respect for Afro-American life.”   

The lynching of Claude Neal

Claude Neal was one of the Black men who was lynched in the state of Florida in 1934.  About 10,000 people attended this lynching.  The authorities understood that mobs were forming to lynch Neal.  A judge ordered Neal to be sent to a jail in Alabama to await a trial.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan went to Alabama, attacked the jail, kidnapped Neal, and returned him to Florida to face a lynching.  This lynching was advertised in the local newspapers.

A letter writing campaign was organized to appeal to President Franklyn Roosevelt to intervene to stop this lynching.  Several federal laws had been broken and Roosevelt had taken an oath to enforce the laws of this country.  However, Roosevelt was a Democrat who received support from Jim Crow politicians and refused to intervene to stop the lynching of Claude Neal, or to arrest his murderers.  Roosevelt would also refuse to support legislation specifically designed to stop lynchings in this country.

The lynching of Emmit Till and the civil rights movement

When racists lynched Emmitt Till the time had come for people to mobilize to put an end to the madness of Jim Crow segregation.  First came the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  This was followed by thousands Black people who would rather go to jail, than continue to submit to the laws denying them citizenship rights in this country.

Robert F. Williams was a veteran of the Korean War who lived in Monroe, North Carolina.  Williams organized a chapter of the National Rifle Association in Monroe to defend Black people in that city against the mob violence of the Ku Klux Klan.

The government eventually forced Williams to leave this country.  However, his organization, as well as those who supported Malcolm X, demonstrated that if the government was not going to end Jim Crow, Black people would defend themselves “by any means necessary.”


Martin Robinson Delany was a nationalist and an abolitionist who worked in the Reconstruction governments after the Civil War.  At that time, the dominant point of view was that the Civil War had “freed” the former slaves.  Delany argued that:

A people, to be free, must necessarily be their own rulers: that is, each individual must, in himself embody the essential ingredient—so to speak—of the sovereign principal which composes the true basis of his liberty.”     
Ever since the Civil War, there has been a basic question that I believe we need to answer.  Back people have toiled to produce much of the wealth in this country.  While this is clearly true, do Black people have full citizenship rights in the United States of America?  When the murderer of Trayvon Martin was found not guilty, we might ask: If Trayvon Martin had citizenship rights in this country, wouldn’t his murderer have gone to prison for this crime?

For the last thirty years working people have experienced a deterioration in our standard of living.  Black people have experienced the brunt of the cutbacks.  There has been clear discrimination in education, health care, housing, salaries, as well as access to loans.  Hundreds of thousands of people are being stopped and frisked.  The overwhelming majority of those stopped and frisked are Black.  The murder of Trayvon Martin begs the question as to whether Black people have the right to live free of vigilante hoodlums.

The history of this country gives us a clear vision as to how we need to respond to the murder of Trayvon Martin.  We need to organize a mass movement that demands human dignity for all.  This movement would state clearly that human needs are more important than profits.  This movement would also look at history and state clearly that the only way to solve the enormous problems we face is with a workers and farmers government.  In my opinion, this would be the best way to respond to the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Economics 101

Today, the people of the world face numerous seemingly unsolvable problems.  There is widespread poverty, destruction of the environment as well as war and discrimination. 

Many people have opinions as to the causes of these problems.  Some argue that greedy people are the cause of many of the problems we face.  Clearly, when we look at the gross disparity of wealth in the world, greed clearly plays a factor.

There are two basic problems with this point of view.  First, some would argue that, if only the people who have power were less greedy, we would be better off.  Then, they argue that greed is a part of the human condition and this means that the problems of the world are inevitable.

A more realistic explanation to the cause of the problems we face comes from the political economic system known as capitalism.  We will not find this point of view in the pro-capitalist news media or on the university campuses.  This is because corporations fund news media as well as universities and they do not hold kindly to criticism.

So, this column will look at the history of capitalism to show how the natural functioning of this system created the enormous problems we face today.  Understanding this history will enable us to point to an alternative to capitalist property relations.

The history of capitalism

Before capitalism existed, there were feudal kingdoms.  During these times, serfs lived on manors and farmed the land.  The serf lived their entire life on the manor and wasn’t allowed to leave. 

Artisans produced the items the royal families wanted.  This was small-scale production that didn’t attempt to fulfill the needs of society as a whole.

Out of this atmosphere a new capitalist class emerged.  Doctors, journalists, bankers, and small business owners gradually came into conflict with the royal families.  Eventually, revolutions erupted and the capitalist class came to power.

The new rulers forced the serfs off the land and they moved to the cities.  In these cities the former serfs became workers where they toiled under horrendous conditions.  Under these conditions, a new working class emerged that demanded improved working conditions.  This new class will learn that working people produce all of the wealth of the world. 

As capitalism developed, the small companies competed with one another and used machinery in a way to cut costs.  This machinery allowed the capitalists to eliminate jobs.  However, in order to pay for the machinery and produce a profit the capitalist needed to be obsessed with cutting costs.  This process meant that only a few large corporations would dominate the economy of entire nations.

Here we see one of the fundamental problems with capitalism.  As the capitalist hires fewer and fewer production workers their percent of profit on investment declines.  This means that corporations will always be obsessed with cutting costs.  Corporations will also need to grow in order to obtain a smaller and smaller percent of profit.

Because corporations have become so large they have relied more and more on banks for their funding.  Today banks and other investment companies dominate capitalist economies.  Whenever we hear a corporation claim that it isn’t making money, we need to ask the question: How much money is that corporation paying in interest to a bank?  Corporations view payments to banks as “expenses” but these so-called expenses are part of the surplus value derived from human labor.

Because of the need for corporations to continually grow, capitalists from all over the world compete with each other for domination of the world markets.  The first and second world wars decided that the United States would be the world’s superpower.

However, even with the economic domination of the world in the hands of just a few capitalist corporations, the decline in the rate of profit continues to be the cause of economic crisis. 

Investment capitalists used a scheme called “junk bonds” in an attempt to stabilize the market.  These junk bonds were regulated and when the bond traders violated these regulations, some went to prison. 

Then, investors invented a new scheme called “derivates.”  These derivatives have no government regulation and traders can sell them with little fear of going to prison.  The inventors of these derivatives funds received Nobel Prizes for their efforts.  Today there is about one thousand trillion dollars, or one quadrillion dollars invested in derivatives.  These funds are merely extremely complicated bets on how the market will perform in the future.  We might consider that while all this money is sitting in these useless funds, about forty percent of the world’s population lives on two dollars per day or less.           

What are small businesses?

Many supporters of capitalism argue that one way of “getting ahead” is to start a small business.  However, when we think of all the commodities we purchase, most of those commodities come from large corporations.  Our food comes from supermarkets.  Transportation usually comes from the auto companies.  Clothing comes from department stores.  Occasionally we might eat out, and the restaurant might, or might not, be a small business.

The government claims to regulate these corporations.  However, these so-called government regulations merely allow the large companies to continue to dominate the economy.  Corporations, as we have seen, are extremely skilled at deflecting any meaningful government regulations.

What is the alternative to capitalism?

Today, there is only one conclusion to this history.  While there were some progressive aspects to the emergence of capitalism, this system no longer represents anything progressive.  In fact, capitalism even in its earliest days, was a system of brutal repression.

The goal of the capitalist is to have economic stability.  In the long term, history has shown that this is virtually an impossible dream.  Since the earliest days of capitalism, the decline in the rate of profit has caused one crisis after another.  During the depression of the 1930’s the banks simply closed their doors and millions of working people lost all their savings.  Capitalists, on the other hand, managed to stay in business and received indispensable government support.  

I wrote about this history to say that there is an alternative to capitalism.  Working people produce all wealth in the world, yet we have no control over this wealth.  Capitalists use this wealth to continue to profit, while being obsessed with cutting costs.

A workers government would use the wealth we produce to guarantee that everyone would have the food, clothing, housing, education, and health care we all need to live.  Working people could work fewer hours with a much higher standard of living.

Instead of sitting in traffic jams after a long day’s work, we could ride on trains going 200 miles per hour while reading a news paper.  With the extra time on our hands we would be able to figure out the answers to the real problems we face.  These being the depletion of natural resources, the destruction of the environment, the cures for disease, and the best way to free humanity from ignorance and alienation.

When we listen to news annalists talk endlessly about the problem we face, we might consider that there is an elephant in the room that these annalists are determined not to see.  This elephant is the fact that the natural workings of the capitalist system, that they all support, is the root cause of our problems.  Working people have been organizing in unions to support our interests since the first years of capitalism.  When we see that we can control the wealth we produce, then, the world can begin to be constructed on completely new foundations.