Revolution #119, February 10, 2008
Cold Truth, Liberating Truth
Part 1: Slavery and Capitalism
On the occasion of Black History Month, Revolution is running a three-part series of excerpts from Cold Truth, Liberating Truth: How This System Has Always Oppressed Black People, And How All Oppression Can Finally Be Ended. This pamphlet was originally published as a series in Revolutionary Worker (former name of Revolution) in 1989. While there have been changes in some of the statistics cited in the pamphlet, the overall analysis continues to be very relevant today.
Racism: Open and Underhanded
Today one of the most common, and underhanded, forms of white chauvinism (racism) is to admit—with a little arm-twisting or even upfront and willingly—that Black people’s situation is one of being far worse off than whites but then to blame Black people themselves for this situation. Looked at in terms of Black people’s overall experience in America, what this amounts to is the dirty trick of admitting that in the past Black people were subjected to oppression and discrimination in this country but claiming now that is no longer the case. “They have been given their chance to ‘make it’ and they have failed—so it must be their own fault and it just shows that they are inferior.” So this racist argument goes.
This same kind of argument has been used to put down Black people—to add insult to the injury of slavery and other forms of oppression—all throughout their history in America. At any given point in this history, the oppressors and those who side with them have tried to deny that there is anything unjust in the treatment of Black people at the time, while perhaps admitting that there was some injustice in the past.
Always the blame is put on Black people for their depressed condition. And always this is a lie—camouflage that covers for the whole economic and political system in the USA and those who run it, the ones who are in fact to blame.
Let’s cut through their boring—and lying—“history” and deal with the real story. In doing this we will see that the forms of discrimination and oppression may have changed at different times in the history of this country but one thing has remained the same right down to today: Black people have been continually subjected to discrimination and oppression under this system. In looking at this we can get a much truer picture of the problem and thus a much clearer understanding of the solution.
Slavery and Capitalism
Everybody knows that Black people did not “come to this country seeking a better life.” They were kidnapped from their homes in Africa, dragged in chains and loaded onto slave ships—treated not like human beings but like things, commodities to be traded and used to enrich others. Tens of millions of these enslaved Africans died before even reaching America, so terrible were the conditions on the slave ships. Those who survived the trip and were then sold to plantation owners were treated like pieces of machinery. Slaveowners commonly referred to the slaves as “talking tools.” That is how Black people were treated for the first 250 years of their experience in America.
Bob Avakian, the Chairman of our Party, has pointed out that the reality of the USA has always been that the government protects the property of white people, especially wealthy white people, more than the rights of Black people. And, as he says:
“It must never be forgotten that for most of their history in what is now the United States of America Black people were the property of white people, particularly wealthy plantation owners.”
And the political leaders of the time—the “founding fathers” of the USA—defended slavery and upheld the interests of the slaveowners against the slaves. This is true of “the father of his country,” George Washington, who was himself a slaveowner, and it is true of the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States—men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Quiet as it’s kept, the Declaration of Independence condemned the King of England for encouraging slave revolts—and rebellions by “Indian savages”—and this cold fact alone screams out the real deal on people like Jefferson who had the nerve to write in that Declaration that “all men are created equal.” And these same men wrote into their Constitution that Black people only counted for three-fifths of a human being!
To many of these white overlords the enslavement and even the extermination of non-European peoples was so “natural” that they didn’t even disguise what they were doing. For example, the French political philosopher Montesquieu greatly influenced the writers of the U.S. Constitution. Along with what he wrote about politics and law, Montesquieu had this to say:
“If I had to justify our right to enslave Negroes, this is what I would say: Since the peoples of Europe have exterminated those of America [the Indians], they have had to enslave those of Africa in order to use them to clear and cultivate such a vast expanse of land [in America].
“Sugar would be too expensive if it weren’t harvested by slaves….
“It is inconceivable that God, who is a very wise being, could have placed a soul, especially a good soul, in an all-black body….
“It is impossible that these people are men; because if we thought of them as men, one would begin to think that we ourselves are not Christians.”
Here again we see that the African peoples, and the native peoples in North America, were treated as something less than human—as though they were “beasts” or “savages” who never had reached and never could reach the “high level of civilization” of the Europeans. The fact that, both in Africa and in North America, there were highly developed societies and cultures long before Europeans came to dominate these places—this basic truth was denied and “written out of history” by the European conquerors and enslavers.
Next: New Forms of Oppression Under Capitalism
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