Revolution#116, January 20, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.... And What We Really Need

For many people in this country (and around the world), Martin Luther King, Jr. is a symbol of the just struggle against racism, discrimination and prejudice. For many people MLK represents the fight against all that is concentrated in the hanging of nooses. So it is not surprising that the kluckers chose to march on MLK Day as a further affront in delivering their racist message/threat—aimed at those defending the Jena 6 and fighting against the oppression of Black people. These racists who carry the American flag and chant, “USA, USA” see Martin Luther King as being against the system in this country.

But in fact, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t oppose this system—he was a defender of the capitalist system. King had come into the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1954, which brought a struggle for equal rights that had been simmering for several decades into national prominence. King’s “moderation” in that struggle brought him backing from liberal elements in the U.S. power structure. And as the struggle grew more militant, King came to represent a wing that sought accommodation and compromise in the freedom struggle; and this wing was opposed to the more militant and eventually revolutionary wing associated first with Malcolm X, then with Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], and finally of the Black Panther Party.  King did not see the need for a revolution to get rid of the system—and that this is the only way to get rid of the oppression of Black people. Instead he opposed revolution and promoted trying to reform this system and worked closely with President Lyndon Johnson, sometimes talking on the phone daily to coordinate his actions with Johnson. And while white racists and the police were attacking civil rights protesters, King insisted on nonviolence—but only for the oppressed masses. During the rebellions of Black people in the ’60s, King openly declared: if blood must be spilled, let it be ours. And during the most powerful of these rebellions, Detroit 1967, King joined in the call for the government to send in troops to put down the rebellion—which they did with vicious violence.

But King’s attempt to channel people into less militant forms, as well as his opposition to the Vietnam War, became too much for some sections of the ruling class.  They spied on and blackmailed King to keep him in check and, eventually, King was assassinated. This assassination amounted to a brutal message to Black people that not even efforts at reform would be tolerated and that even “moderate” leaders would be killed—and people responded with rebellions in over 100 cities.

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