Two Excerpts from "The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need"

The “Promised Land”— And Rising Expectations

The Black Liberation Struggle: What Really Happened Off the ’60s —And What Did Not

February 23, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


We are reposting here a section from "The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," first published as part of a special issue of Revolution Newspaper in October 2008. The full issue is available here.


The “Promised Land”— And Rising Expectations

It was only with World War 2—nearly 100 years after the Civil War—that a major change began to be brought about in the situation of Black people in the U.S. Around the time of World War 1, there was a big demand for workers in the defense plants and other factories, at the same time as the war cut off the flow of immigrant labor from Europe. Capital needed workers—and so some Black people were drawn from the South and allowed in—on the bottom floor. This flow was delayed by the economic depression of the 1930s, but with the outbreak of World War 2 there was once again a huge demand for labor. Then, on top of that, the years directly after World War 2 brought the mechanization of agriculture in the South—so now Black people were not only being drawn to the northern factories, they were being driven off the land that they had farmed for generations under conditions of extreme exploitation.

The forms of oppression differed in the North, but the fact of oppression remained the same. African-American workers were brought into the workforce, but on the basis of their oppression as a people they were put into the dirtiest, most dangerous and lowest-paying jobs. They were “last hired and first fired.” Black people were refused the subsidies that white people received to buy houses, and even when Blacks had the money they were prevented, either by unspoken agreements, government policy, or straight-up violence by white mobs and/or vigilantes (usually assisted by the police), from buying homes in “white” neighborhoods. Instead they were shunted—by government policy—into poorly built highrise housing projects in the inner cities. African-Americans faced segregation and discrimination everywhere they turned, North and South.

But the changes in the South, in the context of major political changes internationally, had given rise to a civil rights movement. Black people were marching, demanding very basic and fundamental rights—the right to vote, to equal education, to not be humiliated when they tried to use public facilities. They were met with police dogs, bombs and Ku Klux Klan terror. Indeed, over 25 civil rights workers were murdered in the South.1

This time, however, a different dynamic came into play: once things reached a certain point, the more that the power structure came at them, the more the masses fought back. And this interacted with the international challenges facing the U.S. ruling class at the time. The oppressed nations and colonies were rising up and fighting for national liberation in the “Third World” of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Revolutionary China, under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, was exerting a galvanic pole of attraction within that situation, powerfully reviving the goal and ideology of communism and inspiring people all over the world to seek out the ways to make revolution—against an imperialist order headed by the U.S. The U.S. rulers were also contending with the formerly socialist Soviet Union (which had become imperialist but had not yet dropped its socialist cover) and old-line colonial powers, particularly Britain and France, for influence in the Third World. In the face of all this, the struggle against the continuing barbarity of the oppression of the Black people in the South—and the way that struggle kept forcing this question onto the world’s front pages—was compelling the American ruling class to scramble, and to make adjustments in how it dealt with Black people.

So all this—the indomitable growth of the southern-based civil rights movement in the 1950s and early ’60s and the ways in which it was becoming not just a nationwide but a worldwide “force of attraction,” along with the migrations to the “promised land” of the North, raised expectations. But the reality of this system once again dashed these heightened hopes. African-Americans in the North continued to be subject to blatant oppression and discrimination. And the southern lynch mobs found their cowardly counterpart in northern mobs that would burn out Black people who would dare to buy houses in “white neighborhoods,” or would attack Black children who dared to go to “white schools.”

“What happens to a dream deferred?” asked Langston Hughes in a famous poem.2

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The Black Liberation Struggle: What Really Happened Off the ’60s —And What Did Not

The masses answered this question, unmistakably. People rebelled in hundreds of American cities,3 and the revolutionary stance of leaders like Malcolm X and forces like the Black Panther Party resonated with millions in the streets and campuses of the U.S. Many things fed into this—including, again, the international situation which, as pointed out earlier, was marked by a great upsurge in national liberation struggles and the influence of a socialist China under the leadership of Mao.

With this powerful upsurge hammering the walls of the social order, some barriers to Black people did fall. Some African-Americans were given opportunities to enter college and professional careers, and social programs like welfare, community clinics, and early education programs were expanded. Government spending for training and jobs that would employ Black people increased. Some discrimination was lifted in credit for housing and small businesses. Most of this was in the form of small concessions—not only did this not begin to touch the real scars of hundreds of years of terrible oppression, but discrimination continued in all of these arenas. Nonetheless, these advances were hardly insignificant.

Even more important than these particular concessions, in some ways, were the “intangibles.” The consciousness of not just African-Americans but other minorities, and many millions of white people as well, radically changed. People sharply challenged the lies that for decades had been taught in American schools and had been driven home in American culture through works like Gone With the Wind and Birth of a Nation. The REAL history of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the whole period of the 20th century began to be unearthed and brought forward.

The ’60s showed that a movement that had Black people as its most solid base of support and the struggle for their emancipation as its leading edge, and that drew connections to other outrages of the system and other struggles against that system, could also inspire and draw forward people of other oppressed nationalities within the U.S., students of all nationalities, and then spread as well to women, to white proletarians (“poor whites”), soldiers and beyond. All kinds of people began to look at everything about this society with fresh eyes—and with the blinders suddenly taken off, they didn’t like what they saw and decided to question it and fight it!

To put it another way, the ’60s showed that when masses rose up in rebellion against the powers-that-be, and when that was coupled with a political stance that called out the system as the problem, and when a growing section of that movement linked itself to and learned from the revolutionary movement worldwide…well, when all that happened, you could radically change the political polarization in society. What could hardly be imagined yesterday suddenly became a real possibility for tomorrow, which demanded action today. (Some of these same phenomena, in microcosm, also occurred in the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992, over the acquittal of the police who had beaten Rodney King. While the initial spark came from the Black masses, significant numbers of Latinos and whites, especially the youth, either joined in or politically supported it, and many, many people were at least temporarily drawn into political life and some to a much more radical and even revolutionary political outlook.)

The ’60s also dramatically showed that the rulers of this system, for all their power and viciousness, are not all-powerful—not when the people whom they rule over rise up and rebel in their hundreds of thousands and then millions.  Seriously challenged and battered by the Vietnam war and the struggle “at home,” these rulers actually fell into serious disarray, and sharp battles broke out within their ranks, which provided further “oxygen” for upsurge from below. In many respects, the ruling class was put on the political defensive, and even lost its “legitimacy” in the eyes of millions. This whole upsurge within the U.S. also had a tremendous effect internationally—both exposing America’s lying pretensions about its “free society” and giving inspiration to the masses in countries all over the world.

But while this tremendous struggle brought down some barriers to formal equality, and while the rulers were challenged and the system shaken to its foundations, the people were not able to make revolution.  And here we have to make an important point: revolution is not just a cool word that means “lots of change”; revolution has a very specific meaning. It means that the people overthrow the system and deprive its rulers of their political power and, as the essence of that power, the ability to wield armies and police against the people. Revolution further means that a new power is then established, with new aims and objectives and the means to enforce those aims and objectives. There WAS a revolutionary movement in the ’60s—and that is something of monumental significance. But there was NOT a revolution—and that too has monumental significance, in understanding what did happen…what didn’t happen…and what must yet happen.

The elimination of some formal discrimination, the expansion of a middle stratum of Black people, and the emergence of a few “Black faces in high places” did not and could not tear up the deep roots of white supremacy (nor still less bring about the broader emancipation that was needed). And the elimination of formal discrimination also could not deal with the class position of the masses of Black people—as members of the proletariat, the propertyless class that is either directly exploited by capitalists or kept as part of the desperately impoverished “reserve army of the unemployed” which can be more readily and ruthlessly exploited when it serves the capitalists’ purposes, and which the capitalists seek to use to depress the conditions and fighting spirit of the proletariat overall. The struggle of the African-American people for liberation is tied by a thousand threads to the struggle of the proletariat for the full emancipation of all humanity. There is no brick wall between these forms of oppression—they are constantly intertwining and interpenetrating, as was seen in Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, there is a common enemy at the root of both these forms of oppression—the capitalist-imperialist system. There is a common solution to both—communist revolution—and the proletariat, as a class, has no interest in maintaining any form of oppression and every interest in wiping out all forms of oppression.


1. See “40 Lives for Freedom” at the Southern Policy Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial Center’s website. [] [back]

2. “Harlem (2),” from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF LANGSTON HUGHES by Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad with David Roessel, Associate Editor, copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. [back]

3. “Between 1964 and 1971, civil disturbances (as many as 700, by one count) resulted in large numbers of injuries, deaths, and arrests, as well as considerable property damage, concentrated in predominantly black areas.” See “How the 1960s’ Riots Hurt African-Americans,” National Bureau of Economic Research. [] [back][back]


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