50 Years After Martin Luther King’s Assassination...

And the Need for Revolution Is More Urgent than Ever

April 9, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King was assassinated as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis. His murder came after a decade of struggle against the systematic injustices inflicted on Black people in the U.S. had polarized this society and reverberated across the world.

Powerful rebellions burst out in more than 100 cities. April 1968 marked a juncture in the upheavals of the era. As we wrote last week, many people “had to face up to the fact that they faced a vicious enemy that was ruthless—even against those who resisted peacefully. More people started considering radical and revolutionary ideas and strategies. They wanted to struggle—and win—against the rulers and their system.”

Much has changed since 1968—in the world, in this country, and in the situation of Black people in this country. Some concessions to the struggle against the oppression of the African-American people were made—and we’ll get to those.

But what has NOT changed is the need to overthrow this system if there is ever to be justice. That has NOT changed, and it will never change so long as capitalism—which in America grew up on the basis of white supremacy to the point where it is in the DNA and the sinews and bones and flesh of this society—remains in power.

What Has Changed, Part One

America made some reforms—but overwhelmingly it intensified oppression of Black people.

Because of the massive struggle and sacrifice of millions of people in the 1950s and ’60s, some things changed. Straight-up legal segregation and other aspects of Jim Crow laws that denied even the pretense of formal equality to Black people were abolished. Important changes in the culture and social and intellectual life among the people within the U.S. were fought for and, to a degree, achieved.

“Black presence” grew in the arts and intellectual life. Some oppressive relations where whites lorded it over Black people were challenged and overturned—even as this remains extremely contested. New scholarship was brought forward shining a light on the buried true history of this country and the conditions that people face today.

Material concessions were made to a section of Black middle-class people, who overall grew in numbers, and some opportunities for some sections of people opened up. The number of Black elected officials grew—from about 1,500 in 1970 to over 10,000 in 2010. But these concessions were designed to preserve and strengthen a system that oppresses all Black people, and to weaken and undermine the radical and revolutionary currents that had gained ground in the upheavals of the era. They promoted entrepreneurialism—the lie that “anyone who tries can make it” in a system based on exploitation of the many by the few. They promoted some Black faces in positions of authority while the structure of that oppressive authority—its police, its legal system, its prisons—remained intact. Even these double-edged concessions are now relentlessly under attack, with the vicious gutting of affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act.

But what has not changed is this: the underlying system has remained in place. So even among Black people who attained a degree of success, the deep oppression of this white supremacist system has continued to hit hard—including in outrageous and blatant forms. Ta-Nehisi Coates has powerfully written about one example of the random terror that can strike any Black person at any moment. He describes his college classmate, Prince Jones—the son of a doctor, a student at elite prep schools and college, never in trouble in his life. Prince Jones: 24 years old, gunned down by a racist cop who followed him across state lines and murdered him with 16 shots.

This systematic oppression takes myriad other forms as well. A recent study indicates that boys raised in wealthy Black households are more likely to live in poverty as adults than to remain wealthy—very few whites follow this trajectory. The housing crisis of 2008 contributed to a huge looting of wealth from Black and Brown families by major banks and financial institutions. By 2013 the net wealth of white people averaged 13 times that of Black people—the largest it had been in decades.

What Has Changed, Part Two

A Slow Genocide: 50 Years of Systematic Oppression of Black People that fits the United Nations definition of genocide.1

At the same time, far greater than the concessions made to the struggle against the oppression of Black people were the attacks against the Black masses. A partial list:

•  1960s—CIA-funded heroin flooded Black communities across the country. As the upheavals of the 1960s peaked, Black communities from coast to coast were hit with a “heroin epidemic,” as cheap heroin flooded in. Years later the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) brought heroin into the U.S. by the planeload from Southeast Asia was exposed.2

•  1980s—CIA-funded crack cocaine pumped into Black communities. In the early 1980s the price of cocaine in the U.S. dropped dramatically—because the amount of cocaine within the country rose enormously. By 1983 it had become a common “street drug,” as a new, cheap, and highly addictive form of cocaine appeared—crack. Agents working with the CIA sold tons of cocaine from South American countries in the United States during those years, and shipped the profits to fund the CIA-run army of murderous counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua. But people in ghettoes and barrios across the country were drawn into the drug trade in the inner cities, because this provided much needed income for basic necessities when there were no other economic options.

•  Mass incarceration of generations of Black and Brown youth begins. In 1982 President Ronald Reagan declared a “war on drugs.” This “war,” which was continued by both Presidents Bush and President Clinton, was a major force driving mass incarceration of Black and Brown youth. Prison population soared from 474,000 in 1980 to over 2.3 million today—by far the highest rate of incarceration in world history. The rate of incarceration for Black people is more than five times as large as for whites. In Maryland, 29 percent of the population is Black; 72 percent of state prisoners are Black.

•  Militarization of local police forces. The “war on drugs” was a central justification for the tremendous expansion of military tactical units (SWAT) by police across the country. Police frequently terrorized whole neighborhoods, kicking down doors and aiming assault rifles and other artillery at residents in mostly Black and poor neighborhoods. One example: in April 1987, the LAPD carried out “Operation Hammer,” with 1,000 cops invading South Central Los Angeles and arresting over 1,450 people in one weekend.3

•  Jobs leave the inner cities, mass unemployment soars: Industrial jobs in inner cities across the U.S. disappeared, as capital scoured the globe in search of the greatest profit. Between 1967 and 1987, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Detroit together lost over one million factory jobs.4 Unemployment soared, especially among young people in the inner cities. Unemployment of urban Black youth has at times reached over 50 percent in many cities.5

•  School Segregation increases since the death of MLK. Decades after a Supreme Court decision that supposedly outlawed segregation in schools, public education is actually getting more segregated, and some of the most “severely segregated” are in northern states like Illinois and New York6; in the South, the number of children in segregated schools is the same as it was in 1968.7 Black children are disproportionately concentrated in poor schools and districts.8

•  The AIDS epidemic ravages Black community disproportionately. The AIDS/HIV epidemic in the U.S. was first identified as being caused by a specific virus in 1982. The U.S. ruling class refused to deal with AIDS for years while the epidemic spread and took lives, disproportionately in the Black community (as well as the better-known toll it took among gay men). Black people are 12 percent of the overall population, but 44 percent of HIV-related deaths in this country are Black people.9 In 1984, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized that transmission of HIV could be reduced by organized needle exchanges—but in 1988 the federal government cut off funding for rehab programs that had needle exchanges! This genocidal practice of refusing to curb the epidemic continued until the opioid epidemic spread to white communities.

•  Police systematically provoke gang warfare. In cities across the country, police have used “gang violence” to condemn entire communities, and to justify their ferocious attacks on Black and Brown youth. But these same cops have provoked and instigated conflicts among the youth. In Chicago, police routinely took youths from one gang and dropped them off in neighborhoods where another gang lived, often leaving them there while they told the rival gang that the people they were leaving were snitches.10 In Los Angeles, after the righteous rebellion of 1992, the Crips and Bloods in South Central LA worked out a truce that suspended more than a decade of brutal and senseless fighting and killing among the people. Police moved hard to shut it down, breaking up unity meetings and parties of Crips and Bloods.

•  The demonization and punishment of Black women. From Ronald Reagan’s code-worded attacks on “Cadillac driving welfare queens” to Bill Clinton’s vow to “end welfare as we know it,” this system has made relentless attacks on poor, and often middle-class, Black women. This was aided by media reports that heaped slander and abuse on women, often Black women receiving welfare; Diane Sawyer of ABC said “these girls [young women on welfare] are ‘public enemy number 1.’” The federal government and state governments slashed welfare benefits, at the same time industrial jobs were vanishing and millions of women struggled to hold their families together. In 1995, the number of people receiving government assistance was about 13 million; by 2016, that number was three million.11

•  Massive evictions of families headed by Black women. Discrimination in housing has always been a hallmark of the oppression of Black people. A study of evictions and homelessness in Milwaukee concluded that “eviction can be thought of as the feminine equivalent to incarceration ... nearly 60 percent of the ... tenants evicted in Milwaukee between 2003 and 2007 were female.”12 Those women were overwhelmingly Black, and that same pattern repeats in cities and towns, large and small, across the country.13

•  An epidemic of police murder of Black youth. Thousands of Black people, especially young men but also women and older people, have been murdered by police in an ongoing epidemic and crime of this society. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tyisha Miller, Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling—the painful list is endless. Rarely are the murderers even charged, much less convicted for any crime. This epidemic of murder and brutality also ravages the Latino and Native American communities.

•  Fines and imprisonment for being poor. Cities and towns across the country have instituted a system of heavy and escalating fines for people arrested on minor offenses, like vehicle violations, then imprisoning them for debt if they can’t pay the fines. In many places, like Ferguson, Missouri, these systems are a direct continuation of the Jim Crow system that once was the law. At any given time, about half a million people are in jail in this country because they can’t afford to pay bail.14 Forcing prisoners to pay for their own incarceration is increasingly widespread, and impacts Black people arrested on bullshit charges especially hard. In Macomb County, Michigan, prisoners must pay for room and board, work release, physicals, dental visits, medication, prescriptions, nurse sick calls, and hospital medical treatment.15

•  Inner-city schools turned into virtual prisons. By 2004, 69 percent of teachers in majority Black or Latino schools said they were patrolled by armed police.16 Seventy percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement are Black or Latino, and children as young as six have been taken out of school in handcuffs.17

The fact is this: Despite the sacrifice and struggle, despite the concessions here and there paid for with blood, conditions for the masses have gotten worse. America is not, as Obama likes to say, constantly moving forward toward a “more perfect union.” It is a capitalist-imperialist system with white supremacy bred into its flesh and bone, continually adapting but never relenting. And now with Trump—with his constant demonization of Black people and his moves toward greatly heightened repression and worse, with his overall fascist program and his threats to annihilate all of humanity in global war and environmental destruction—this threatens to go to a whole other level.

Almost 200 years ago Karl Marx, the founder of scientific communism, wrote that capitalism’s beginnings—what he sarcastically called its “rosy dawn”—was based on genocide against the Native peoples of the Americas, enslavement of African peoples, the wholesale looting of the peoples of the Caribbean. Those origins have been seared indelibly into every aspect of capitalism, and have grown more intense as it developed into a global system of capitalism-imperialism. Global exploitation and immiseration of millions of people, including children; subjugation and subordination of entire peoples and nations, including Black people in the U.S.—these are the blood and marrow of the capitalist system. There will be no liberation as long as this system remains intact. (This has been deeply gone into in the works of Bob Avakian and in articles on revcom.us. See, for example: here, here, and here.)

But What HAS Changed, Most Important of All

Fifty years later, the situation for the Black masses has not changed for the better; this oppression has intensified... and threatens to get far worse.

But one thing has changed for the better. And that is this:

Now there is a truly scientific way to understand the roots of this oppression, the forces that keep it going, and the way to overcome it—as part of overcoming and abolishing all other forms of exploitation and oppression and destructive conflicts among the people, and emancipating humanity. This is the new communism of Bob Avakian (BA).

What HAS changed is that, through BA’s work, there is a strategy which could actually unite millions, throughout society, in a revolution that could WIN.

What HAS changed is that there is a vision, concretized in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by BA and adopted by the Central Committee of the RCP, that shows how to overcome this oppression on the road to, and as part of, emancipating all humanity.

What HAS changed is that there is leadership, in Bob Avakian—who has forged a NEW understanding of communism and revolution for the whole world—and in the Party that is organized on the basis of this new communism.

Bob Avakian embodies a rare combination: someone who has been able to develop scientific theory on a world-class level, while at the same time having a deep understanding of and visceral connection with the most oppressed, and a highly developed ability to “break down” complex theory and make it accessible to masses of people.

The times are extreme and dangerous and there are no solutions to be found within this system. But there IS a way forward. As Bob Avakian has so powerfully and poetically put it:

There is the potential for something of unprecedented beauty to arise out of unspeakable ugliness: Black people playing a crucial role in putting an end, at long last, to this system which has, for so long, not just exploited but dehumanized, terrorized and tormented them in a thousand ways—putting an end to this in the only way it can be done—by fighting to emancipate humanity, to put an end to the long night in which human society has been divided into masters and slaves, and the masses of humanity have been lashed, beaten, raped, slaughtered, shackled and shrouded in ignorance and misery.


1. Excerpt from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (For full text click here)

“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.”  [back]

2. See, for instance, The Politics of Heroin; CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by Alfred J. McCoy.  [back]

3. “The Raid That Still Haunts L.A.,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2001  [back]

4. When Work Disappears, by William Julius Wilson (Knopf, 1997) and The Origins of the Urban Crisis, by Thomas J. Sugrue (Princeton University Press, 1996)  [back]

5. “The Young Face of Inner City Unemployment,” New York Times, March 22, 1992.  [back]

6. “Brown at 62: School Segregation by Race, Poverty and State,” The Civil Rights Project, May 16, 2016.   [back]

7. “Southern Schools Are Resegregating,” CityLab, May 31, 2017 and “The Return of School Segregation in Eight Charts,” Frontline, July 15, 2014.   [back]

8. “Report finds segregation on the rise,” Associated Press, May 17, 2016 and “Separate and Unequal?” U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 17, 2017. [back]

9. “Black Americans and HIV/AIDS: The Basics,” Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation, February 6, 2018.   [back]

10. “Chicago Cops Dropped Off Uncooperative Gang Members in Rival Territory,” MassAppeal.com.  [back]

11. “The End of Welfare as We Know It,” The Atlantic, April 1, 2016.  [back]

12. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.  [back]

13. “In 83 Million Eviction Records, a Sweeping and Intimate New Look at Housing in America,” New York Times, April 7, 2018.  [back]

14. “It’s a crime to be poor in America,” Market Watch, April 9, 2015.  [back]

15. “Paying for Your Time: How Charging Inmates Fees Behind Bars May Violate the Excessive Fines Clause,” Brennan Center for Justice, July 1, 2014.  [back]

16. “Police Officers in Schools: Effects on School Crime and the Processing of Offending Behaviors,” Chongmin Na & Denise C. Gottfredson, Justice Quarterly, October 3, 2011.  [back]

17. “How schools push black students to the criminal justice system,” German Lopez, vox.com.  [back]



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