How I saw the reparations march and how I see the reparations issue
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Aug 20 17:56:31 MDT 2002
I attended the reparations demonstration in Washington, D.C. last Saturday.
The demonstration was small I don't believe there were more than 5,000
people there at any one point, although I'm sure that quite a few more
thousands passed in and out at one time or another.
It was dominated by groups like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense,
COBRA (a reparations coalition with a lot of young people involved), the
December 12 Movement, and the Nation of Islam. The only member of the
Black Congressional Caucus who spoke was John Conyers of Detroit.
It was also substantially and maybe even predominantly working-class in
composition. I got this strong impression moving among the demonstrators
and observers, distributing leaflets for upcoming antiwar actions in New
York City sponsored by Stand Up New York -- 9/11 Remembrance for Global
Peace and Justice
I noticed a number of union contingents including a bunch of people from the
Laborer's union in Chester, Pa. -- they had made some striking t-shirts. But
my estimate is basically an impression based among observing the event and
talking to a few people.
There was a sizable number of whites there, a significant minority, and
their presence was taken as completely natural by everybody else.
Farrakhan made the best speech I heard there, although I missed a lot of
them. He linked reparations to his opposition to Blacks serving in U .S.
wars anywhere in the world and he made particular mention of Iraq. In
contrast to some previous speeches of his I have heard, there was no Jew-,
white- or anybody-else- baiting in this talk..
In my judgment, the demonstration marks the beginning, not the end, of as
far as the reparations issue is concerned.
The turnout is a pretty clear signal that masses of Blacks don't today
consider fighting for massive compensation for the crimes committed against
their people to be realistic.It would be a mistake, however, to believe
that the reparations issue hasn't captured the attention and to some extent
the imagination of the Black nationality in the United States.
I believe that this will become a mass demand and that Blacks will
eventually win large-scale reparations as a people either from the rulers of
this country, or after their removal from power.
In my opinion, reparations are simply affirmative action on a broader and
wider scale and presented in explicitly national terms -- as owed to the
Black people of the United States as a people from the United States of
America which has enslaved, oppressed, and denied the rights of the Black
nationality from the formative years of this nation to the present..
It is a demand for a massive shift of resources to overcome national
inequality in all its forms -- resources to be controlled by the oppressed
nationality itself (what form that will take will be a lot clearer when the
Black nationality and its allies are strong enough to win reparations).
Former presidents Clinton and Bush have opposed reparations, and the
current incumbent threatened to break up the UN conference on racism in
Durban if anybody talked about it. it doesn't have any support to speak of
in the union bureaucracy or the Demcratic Party. Even many of the Black
Democrats are quiet about it.
Many claim it is divisive and will turn Black against white.
The same thing was said by an earlier generations of Bushes and Clintons,
union bureaucrats and liberal politicians when affirmative action first came
This too was divisive, narrow, racial, etc.-- it would turn white against
Black, worker against worker, and so on ad infinitum and, frankly, ad
Now affirmative action, in contained and limited form that only touches
fringes of the oppression of the Black nationality, has simply become part
of the scenery. Most liberals claim to be supporters of affirmative action
(although calls for quotas get the horror-stricken "How divisive!" "How
racial!'" treatment). And Bush's crew have been very quiet about their
Now it is the call for reparations that is treated as though it were causing
racial divisions and conflicts that it legitimately responds to.
The response to the demand for reparations, as the response to the demand
for affirmative action did earlier, highlights the antagonism of the
official public opinion to anything that touches on going beyond ending the
formal, legal inequality of Black people in the United States to ending the
actual unequal position of Black people in the United States.
Equality of opportunity, of course. And if, after competing on the level
playing field, Blacks still end up at or near the bottom of the capitalist
heap, well we all REALLY know that biology is destiny. But "equality of
result" -- that nightmare must be prevented at all costs.
To me, reparations means - affirmative action on a massive, pan-social scale
to advamce toward the complete abolition of the oppression and all traces of
the unequal status of the oppression of the Black nation/nationality in the
United States (I tend to think Blacks have become a nation in the United
States, but I am not interested in debating the technicalities).
Reparations are also linked, of course, to the right of self-determination.
The fight for these rights is bound to become among the most explosive
class-struggle issues in U.S. politics.
Who will pay for reparations? A massive shift of resources to the Black
nationality will have to come from the same source as all the other
resources of the United States of America. From the labor of working people
in the United States and the world, the creators of all the wealth that
human beings produce.
Since the rulers produce nothing, they can ultimately pay for nothing. Of
course they will try to pass reparations off as a tax issue, just as they
try to pass social security off as a tax or deficit issue. It seems to me
that the function of revolutionaries should be to expose such games.
I can gripe about the sins of "identity politics" with the best of them. and
know a lot about the reactionary outlook of Farrakhan and quite a few other
nationalists. But the core issues of the national rights, such as
reparations and self-determination, of Black people in the United States as
a people are not "identity politics" but right at the heart of the
revolutionary struggle in the United States and the world.
Can the working class and the farmers and other producers of this country be
won to see the justice of reparations. My admittedly limited
experience --about ten or twelve years in unionized industrial jobs, and
about forty years in political activity in general-- has strengthened my
virtually lifelong tendency to believe that the answer is yes.
If as I firmly believe, the U.S. working class is capable of taking power
in this country and reconstructing it in the interests of humanity, then it
goes without saying that they will see the justice of reparations and be
part of the fight for them.
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