[Marxism] Katrina, one year later: for black liberation through socialist revolution!

Fred Bergen f_red_bergen at yahoo.com
Tue Aug 29 16:00:47 MDT 2006


From the September, 2006 issue of Working
Class Emancipation: 

One year after Katrina: An indictment of the criminal
racism of the ruling class; prospects and a strategy
for black liberation 

by Fred Bergen August 29, 2006 

Working Class Emancipation: 401-837-3685
laboraction at aim.com 

One year ago, on August 29, 2005, the wind, rain, and
ocean storm surge of Hurricane Katrina slammed into
New Orleans and the US Gulf Coast. But it wasn't the
weather that was deadly, killing at least 1,800
people, with hundreds more still missing one year
later. The storm merely swept away the hypocritical
mask of US capitalist "democracy". It revealed to the
world a ruling class and its government that could
send hundreds of thousands of soldiers halfway around
the world on a hair trigger to protect its imperialist
interests, but was incapable of and unconcerned with
organizing the most basic humanitarian measures for
the working class black people of New Orleans. The
floods swept away the government's false promises of
"civil rights" and "democracy" and revealed that the
horrors of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are the ruling
class' rehearsal for repression against blacks, other
oppressed nationalities, and the working class at
home. They exposed the criminality of a ruling class
that went far beyond the callous indifference of
"heckuva job" Bush or the bungling incompetence of the
FEMA bureaucracy: a ruling class whose first reaction
to the sight of working class and black masses
stranded in the wastelands of the Gulf Coast was, in
the words of the Democrat, Louisiana Governor Kathleen
Blanco, "shoot to kill". Blanco sent National Guard
troops, battle-hardened from Iraq, into the city with
these orders. The entire black population of the Gulf
Coast was once again convicted, without trial or jury,
of a crime familiar to most poor black youth in the
US: being in the wrong place at the wrong time with
the wrong skin pigment, and the troops were sent in to
carry out the execution. 

The lynch-mob media whipped up rumors of anarchy on
the flooded streets of New Orleans, claiming that
rapes and murders were being committed in the
refugee-packed Superdome. All these rumors were lies,
but they sprang up easily from the fertile ground of
the centuries-old campaign of racist demonization of
black people in the US that is used to justify police
repression and social inequality. The deadly anarchy
in New Orleans was the anarchy of capitalism: Katrina
proved that a system that devotes brilliant minds and
billions of dollars to predicting the wild
fluctuations of commodity prices could not prepare for
the most predictable (and predicted) natural disaster.
The media cheered the entry of killer troops. While
hundreds of working class residents of New Orleans,
branded as "looters", went to extraordinary lengths
rescuing and supplying their neighbors with improvised
measures, police and troops mustered their forces to
guard the high and dry, wealthy and mostly white
suburbs, arms in hand. 

Space limitations prevent us from cataloging even a
fraction of the injustices suffered by the workers and
oppressed people of the Gulf Coast in the year since
Hurricane Katrina. We invite hurricane survivors and
eyewitnesses to share their observations and
conclusions with Working Class Emancipation and we
will try to publish and respond to them in future
issues. So that the awful truth will not be
obliterated by the ruling class' selective history, we
propose that the AFL-CIO and Change to Win convene a
national panel of inquiry composed of black trade
unionists and working class Katrina survivors,
empowered to investigate the government's crimes
against the people of the Gulf Coast, and recommend
measures of restitution. 

The year's worth of criminal governmental neglect and
abuse do share a common thread: the notoriety of the
Katrina disaster has harshly illuminated the racism
and inequality endemic to US capitalist society. The
government is preparing doomsday plans for global
nuclear wars. It is building 40,000 more prison cells
for captured immigrant workers, and a continent-wide
fortified wall on the Mexican border. The rich live in
unfathomable opulence, their every need catered and
pampered, their global business empires organizing
millions of workers on every continent into
cooperative labor. But the Katrina refugees, scattered
across the cities of the US, face the reality that
confronts most poor and working people: a desperate
struggle for jobs, housing, education for their
children, and some elusive sense of social security
and stability. 

While Halliburton and other war profiteers fatten on
government reconstruction contracts, bankers and
real-estate moguls salivate over the the subsidized
theft and reselling of the ruined homes and properties
of black workers in New Orleans' flooded city wards,
the lynch-mob media complains of "fraud": by refugees
trying to stay in their hotels a month too long, or
getting more than their share of charity relief
supplies. 

The exposure of the capitalist government's crimes was
only one part of the political result of the
hurricane. Katina put the question of liberation on
the agenda of broad masses of working class and
oppressed people across the US, no matter where they
were when the storm made landfall. The unavoidable
individual conclusions of millions of workers, the
molecular and subterranean changes in mass
consciousness, have not yet found a united political
voice, although the outrage has forced its way to the
surface. During a live televised charity drive on NBC,
an obviously emotionally shaken rapper Kanye West,
known principally for his reactionary celebration of
bourgeois decadence and women-hating lyrics, went
off-script and declared "George Bush doesn't care
about black people". This brief and limited expression
of the anger of millions spread like wildfire and
overran the network's attempt to cover it up through
censorship. 

The conclusion that many cannot fail to draw, beyond
Bush's obvious racist contempt for blacks, is that the
Civil War and Reconstruction were sabotaged by the
reconciliation of the Northern and Southern
capitalists in 1877, and were never completed: despite
the heroic struggles of what is called (in order to
bury it in the past) the "Civil Rights Era", blacks
still find themselves prisoners in their own land,
cast out of the house that they and their enslaved
ancestors built. 

The Black Workers League issued a statement on August
23 [1], which said, "The one-year anniversary of
Hurricane Katrina ... is a moral and political
statement about the meaning of so-called American
'democracy.' The act of leaving hundreds of thousands
of Black and poor people to die in the richest country
in the world and the treatment of those who survived
as criminals and refuse to be discarded as a burden on
society, is a crime against humanity." The statement
condemns both Democrats and Republicans for their
complicity in this crime. It calls for the formation
of a Reconstruction Party: "Black, working class and
poor survivors need a collective voice that speaks for
and represents the interests of those most impacted by
this human disaster; a political organization and
voice that organizes and expresses the power and will
of the people, a Reconstruction Party. Without
political power, the most impacted survivors and
communities throughout the Gulf Coast will receive
little to no resources to rebuild." 

We heartily agree that a political party is needed
that can represent the workers and oppressed people,
and finish the Civil War by putting black liberation
at the top of its agenda. But the reformist politics
of the B.W.L., its publicists in the Stalinist Workers
World Party, and much of the "socialist" left in the
US today, will prevent this initiative from
succeeding. The B.W.L. makes its perspective clear in
the quoted statement, where it says "Without a
movement to exercise power and to win public opinion
and support at the national and international levels,
the U.S. government won't feel the pressure to
adequately address in a timely manner the needs of the
peoples in and dispersed from the Gulf Coast." In
other words, the perspective of the B.W.L. and its
publicists is to use radical rhetoric to lobby the
capitalist government to do what it has historically
been unable and unwilling to do: guarantee black
people and workers in general their most fundamental
democratic rights. To talk of "exercising power" when
the racist capitalist class still has the weapons of
the state -- Gov. Blanco's "shoot to kill" troops --
at its command, is simply a delusional cover for the
powerless politics of reformism. 

The B.W.L. concludes, "The rebuilding of the Gulf
Coast ... must become a political model of building a
zone of democracy that contributes to the spread of
real democracy and social transformation throughout
the country. ... This is an historical moment for
African Americans and the poor to demand that the U.S.
government use its resources to rebuild for democracy
and human rights and not for war to destroy and
divide." 

We revolutionaries insist that black liberation,
including the conquest of full democratic rights for
blacks in the US, can only be achieved through
socialist revolution. It is hopeless and naïve to
expect the US government to "rebuild for democracy".
The face of US capitalist "democracy" was unmasked by
Hurricane Katrina, and it's not going to get any
prettier. The statement of the B.W.L. reinforces the
false, utopian notions that many workers, black and
white, still hold about the nature of capitalist rule.
Poverty, the racist criminal in-justice system,
sexism, and endless imperialist war: this is what
capitalist "democracy" looks like. 

For those of us who entrust our future to the struggle
of the working class and oppressed people against
their capitalist exploiters, these are more than
differences in phrasing. They are the difference
between an non-class-conscious movement led by
reformists, seeking to enforce certain terms of
compromise with a ruthless and murderous enemy, and
the conscious struggle of the working class for power.
Capitalist "democracy", which never fully existed for
blacks in the US, cannot be "rebuilt" under the
pressure of any movement. Not even the physical
infrastructure itself of New Orleans and the Gulf
Coast will be rebuilt for working class black people
unless the workers expropriate the tremendous wealth
of the petroleum and shipping industries of the Gulf
Coast, and apply them in a planned way to solve the
social crises which Katrina only made more severe.
Nothing short of socialist revolution can achieve
this. 

[1] Quoted from Workers World Aug. 28 2006, on-line at http://www.workers.org/2006/us/bwl-0907/

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