Black Lives Matter: Friend or Foe?
21-06-2020: Throughout the Western world, riots and protests have taken place over the police murder of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, in Minneapolis, USA. Under normal circumstances, protests against such an act would be understandable, and would be something that working people could throw their weight behind. Yet the context for these actions took place in anything other than normal circumstances, and the political direction of the riots and protests were not progressive. The leadership emanated from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organisation and was backed by liberals and what became the “lockdown left”. BLM may have begun with good intentions some years ago under the Obama administration in the US, but today one word best describes its character: hypocrisy.
Whither the coronavirus?
For three months up until the days after George Floyd was killed, many of the forces behind BLM were united as one behind the very same Western governments they rioted against the next week. BLM and the lockdown left formed a critical part of the imperialist state as it drove the coronavirus plot, a cover for barely restrained attack on working people through lockdowns, “social-distancing” and intense political repression. The farcical claimed rationale of “saving lives” was in fact a deadly fig-leaf for the largest assault on the working class since the Great Depression of the 1930s. For three months straight, BLM and the lockdown left were the most vociferous backers of the police while they were enforcing “coronavirus” lockdowns. They did NOT oppose police violence when it was used to enforce the lockdowns, and did NOT defend African Americans nor Aboriginal Australians against the armed fist of the capitalist state – as they had swallowed the bourgeois Covid-19 narrative whole.
For example, Aboriginal elder Malcolm McKenzie was arrested for protesting against lockdown barricades being installed in his home town of Davenport, South Australia. Aboriginal communities were in many cases subjected to harsher lockdowns than that of non-Aboriginal Australia, with some having to gain police permission to enter or leave quarantined areas. Greens MP Tammy Franks did condemn the arrest of Mr McKenzie but did not oppose the lockdown which caused the problem. Those who later marched under the BLM banner over the situation in Minneapolis were silent. In the Northern Territory (NT), the Australian Army was brought in to enforce pitiless lockdowns in remote Aboriginal communities and towns with a high Aboriginal population such as Tennant Creek and Katherine. Federal Police (!) soon followed the military. For Aboriginal people who have endured the colonisation of the continent, the Stolen Generations (removal of Aboriginal children), and the NT “Intervention” (the deployment of military and police into Aboriginal communities), yet another military and police intrusion revives the all too recent trauma inflicted by the colonial powers. Yet the lockdown left and supporters of BLM remained utterly silent. Black Lives Matter?
The open dichotomy where BLM strongly backed the armed forces of the capitalist state even while supposedly protesting against it is most evident in the means it chose to employ. In the US, it used wanton violence – riots, looting and even murder. Retired police captain David Dorn was shot dead by looters in St. Louis. Many businesses that were ironically owned by African Americans, as well as Asian Americans and other migrants came close to being totally destroyed. The transparent aim was to get rid of President Donald Trump, by fair means or foul. Either through the ballot box by backing the Democrats in the November Presidential elections, or through chaotic street violence, or a combination of both. In other words, it appears to have been a colour revolution coming home.
The US government has a history of orchestrating colour revolutions in foreign countries, in order to bring down any leader or government which has the temerity to defend itself against Western imperialism. Billionaire financier George Soros, through his Open Society Foundation (OSF) is known to have participated through funding several of these colour revolutions (which are really counter-revolutions) against “communism” in Eastern Europe in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately, Soros’ liberal anti-communism is shared by the lockdown left and many who back BLM, even as they routinely denounce anyone who points out this connection as a “conspiracy theorist”. The OSF is known for being obscure about where its millions of dollars in “donations” are directed, but given the long list of liberal and civil society causes and organisations within the US that have received OSF funding, it is very likely that BLM has been one of the recipients. Here we refer to BLM the organisation rather than people who are drawn into BLM riots, rallies and protests.
One indicator that the BLM George Floyd riots were led in the direction of a reactionary colour revolution were the mysterious piles of bricks that appeared in half a dozen US cities. The piles of loose masonry were strategically placed along the routes of BLM marches, inviting enraged rioters to conveniently pick them up and use them as projectiles. Whether these were paid for by George Soros or not, whoever supplied them obviously has deep pockets, and did not at all desire a peaceful protest. To our knowledge, the BLM organisation did not denounce the looting and violence that took place during the riots, and it even had the backing of substantial sections of the liberal corporate media. This is another indicator that the riots were in fact not about George Floyd per se, but about President Donald Trump.
In Seattle, the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) was established. Barricading out six city blocks, BLM activists and supporters held off police in a supposedly peaceful occupation of parts of the city centre. President Trump vowed to crush the BLM and Antifa (a loose network of various anti-fascist types) backed autonomous zone, which was rather ironic given US imperialism’s backing for the “autonomous zone” in Northern Syria, using remorseless anti-government and pro-US Kurdish militias as proxies. The existence of CHAZ somewhat resembled the “Occupy” protests of 2011, which took place in the US and a number of countries around the world. The key difference is that the Occupy movement had an overall progressive political message – it wanted an end to the vast gap between the obscenely rich minority of stock market billionaires and the overwhelming majority who exist in semi or actual poverty. Despite the Occupy movement subsiding partially due to a rejection of socialism or even working-class struggle as an alternative, it was at least an attempt to find a path towards social justice. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for CHAZ and BLM.
BLM and identity politics
BLM is the ultimate end of black identity politics, that is, the elevation of a racial indicators over and above other more substantial areas of commonality – such as class. That is one reason why it cannot go any further forward and ends in political activity which is easily co-opted by capitalism itself. This is despite many BLM supporters, especially the lockdown left, viewing themselves as “anti-capitalists” and even “socialists”. There are almost no protests, let alone riots, which can be backed by billionaire corporations, but the BLM George Floyd actions certainly were. The list of capitalist mega-corporations that have donated millions either to BLM directly or related charities in the wake of the riots is long, but instructive. An inexhaustive roll-call includes: Apple, Nike, Sony, Amazon, Microsoft, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, EA Games, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Etsy, H & M, Toms Shoes, Everlane, Levis, GAP, McDonalds, Wendys, Coca-Cola, and the United Health Group.
It is not just that these corporations can see dollar signs in opportunistically posing as defenders of the anti-racism cause, though this is apparent. More to the point, the politics of BLM is so narrow and so restricted to one issue that it can garner support from anyone from any social class. In fact, the politics of BLM is so vague and ineffectual that the very billionaires of the ultimate oppressive class that benefit from the system which includes racism against people of colour can claim opposition to this racism. BLM could potentially be a progressive political movement if it linked the racism that exists to the structure of the system that uses it to divide working people. In other words, racism can only really be combatted by uniting black, white, yellow, red and brown people in a working-class struggle against the rule of finance capital. This is of course the very opposite of black identity politics.
The limitations of BLM and its politics are also on display with the one demand it actually did produce – “Defund the Police”. This demand lays bare the politics of BLM and the lockdown left. The police are a component part of the core of the capitalist state, alongside the courts, prisons, armed forces and the public service bureaucracy. While it is undeniable that the police use violence against working people, including people of colour, police cannot be abolished unless and until there is something to replace it. In the struggle to replace capitalism with socialism, workers struggle to erect their own state – which defends the overwhelming majority – in place of the capitalist state, which defends a numerically insignificant but extremely wealthy minority. While there will likely be “police” under a workers state, their class character changes into the opposite of what they are under a capitalist state. Police violence now stems from the class character of an armed force which needs extreme violence to protect the wealth of the few against the crying needs of the overwhelming majority. If there is any police violence under a workers’ state, it will mainly be directed against preventing the possibility of the ultra-rich minority from employing violence in attempts to regain their lost wealth and political power. In general, policing in a workers state will be used to defend the majority – an impossibility under capitalism.
Even though many workers now understand that capitalist state police sometimes commit gross injustices against them, and against minorities of all kinds, they also know that at the present moment police also play a social function that is not taken up by any other force. Despite their many crimes, working people are still compelled to call the police if they feel themselves or their homes are in danger. Until a workers’ movement is powerful enough to set up its own “police”, working people cannot support the abolition of the police as they exist now. The demand to “Defund the Police” is also the height of liberalism, for it implies that the capitalist state can be used to dismantle itself.
BLM and imperialist war
While issuing calls for a fraudulent scaling-down of the state at home, BLM do not recoil from backing the very same state abroad, even when that state engages in wholesale slaughter of black, brown, Arabic people and millions who are non-white. Here is where BLM and the lockdown left join in an unholy alliance. Imperialist war is the quintessential act of the capitalist state and its need to expand or perish, and it cannot be separated from the daily oppression of workers it carries out at home. Yet with a few exceptions, the lockdown left (formerly the imperial left) and those who form the backbone of BLM have either remained silent, cheered on, or have been the loudest voices advocating the US imperialist wars on Libya and Syria. In 2011, NATO bombed Green Libya to smithereens in support of Al Qaeda and other racist misanthropes, which tragically led to the reappearance of black slavery. NATO’s actions had the full backing of what is now the lockdown left, and there was silence from BLM.
What is more, due to their virulent opposition to the governments of Russia, China and Iran from the right, the lockdown left and many who back BLM in practice aid and assist the very Western governments they otherwise protest against. Joining the imperialist propaganda campaign against Russia, China and Iran materially aids Washington’s preparations for a catastrophic third World War. It is then any wonder that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the “human face” of the notorious CIA, could release a statement of political support for BLM? As Tony Cartalucci writes, any genuine opposition to racism against black people would necessarily include strident opposition to actual and threatened imperialist wars waged by Washington, and backed by Canberra.
Shallow opportunism and hypocritical faux opposition to the capitalist state which uses racism to divide working people will not do. What is required is the building of a working-class struggle against the rule of the private banks and the stock market, from day to day policing up to and including the never-ending danger of imperialist war. Key to this perspective is the forging of an integrated multi-ethnic and multi-racial Marxist vanguard party, which can champion genuine anti-racism as one pillar for the overthrow of elite dominion and the establishment of a socialist order.