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Black socialism in the United States

from Black Live Matter to Black Liberation
Forfatter: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Forlag: Haymarket Books (USA)
The United States faces the choice between socialism or barbarism.

What exactly is Black Lives Matter for a size? Is it a campaign against police violence, is it a protest movement that will revolutionize the United States, is it an organization that fights for the rights of African Americans and to get more among them to vote or be elected to public office? Or was it the name of a series of very extensive but scattered and contradictory riots that took place in the US in 2014 – 15, in response to police violence and structural racism? According to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Black Lives Matter is all of the above, but primarily a protest movement that articulates a pervasive critique of the racial and economic inequalities of American society. As such, BLM is a revolutionary movement, or a revolutionary movement a spe. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor reads the BLM as a reactivation of the most radical part of black resistance in the 1960, and links BLM directly with a radical anti-capitalist critique that understands racism as a system that divides the working class and awards white subjects capitalist-produced privileges. Class exchange and racial oppression are interrelated and affirm each other in the United States. Unlike "Afropessimists" such as Frank B. Wilderson III, who reject alliances between blacks and whites and prefer to talk about anti-blackness rather than racism, Taylor tries to link black resistance with what she calls a socialist capitalism criticism. Only as part of a major societal transformation, ie a socialist revolution, is it possible to change structural racism in the United States, Taylor writes. As she puts it: "Black liberation is linked to the project of human liberation and social change."

The threat of a black revolution caused the political system to embed a small group of upper-class African Americans and make them a "proof" that the United States had become a color-blind society.

Obama's broken promises. Taylor's book was published before Trump was elected, but the development has only made the book even more important, and it offers an excellent historical overview where BLM is rooted in a course that dates from the late 1960s to Obama's presidential term, when BLM emerged. The explanation for that paradox – the most powerful black resistance in four decades at a time when, for the first time in the country's history, a black president has been elected – is, of course, the disappointment of Obama and the recognition of the impossibility of changing the system from the inside.

As Taylor explains in his book, so did the election of Barack Obama. A promise of a shift where a final settlement of the existing structural racism in the United States, which is an undeniable reality, is readable in statistics on wealth, income, housing, education, convictions, the number of inmates and, not least, the number of politidræbte. The United States is not only founded on, but also sustains a brutal racism expressed in structural inequality that means that African Americans are trapped in poverty or imprisoned.

However, there was no system change. Quite a number of young African Americans enthusiastically participated in Obama's campaign and a larger number than ever before voted in 2009. The hope that "Yes, We Can" did not simply mean an end to the Iraq war and the closure of the Guantanámo base in Cuba not even Obama succeeded in implementing, but the slogan stood for much more, not least the development of an actual social policy that could address and rectify the social and economic misery that the vast majority of the African American population lives in – and that hope was not redeemed. By no means did Obama live up to the promises, or rather the hopes. Because in retrospect, it is clear that an actual showdown with American racism was never part of Obama's project – nor can it be within the framework of American national democracy.

The case Brown. This became evident in the wake of the protests that erupted following the killing of unarmed 18-year-old African American Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014. Like many other African American men, the unarmed Brown was shot by local police. Police subsequently left the body in a rear-facing August sun for more than four hours before moving it. As the body lay there, they refused to see his dead son. The following days, police then on several occasions destroyed the temporary monument made by Martin's parents at the scene of the crime. The killing and police behavior provoked the area's African-American residents, who began demonstrating against the behavior of the local police, but also against police violence in general. Brown was just the latest case in an ever-growing list of unarmed African Americans as police kill daily in the United States. The protests spread quickly and lasted for months. They took the form of marches, occupations and riots where shops and cars were burned and looted. The protests were so extensive that Obama was forced to respond to them, but his reaction was fiercely disappointing to African Americans. Obama talked about peace and reconciliation and the need to be constructive. His speech fell to the deaf ear. It was clear that Obama had no answer to the police violence and structural racism it is expressing. It was against this backdrop of the inherent racism of the political system that the Black Lives Matter movement emerged. It was a reaction to a structural racism that is unfortunately as alive today as it was before 1965 and the repeal of the racist Jim Crow laws that had maintained the oppression of black Americans through slave-like conditions after the official cessation of slavery in 1865.

Structural and intentional racism. For Taylor, Obama's inability to do anything about the many racist killings culminates in a longer historical course dating back to the recovery of the 1960s civil rights movement and the militant black resistance for which the Black Panther Party is the best known. The threat of a black revolution in the late 1960s led the political system and the local capitalist class to embed a small group of African Americans in the American upper class and make them "proof" that the United States had become a color-blind society where everyone has the opportunity to realize themselves. So, if there are many African Americans in prison, it's because they have a weak character, commit crime, or take drugs. It is the story of the "neoliberal" individualization that takes place in the period after May '68, in which structural and social problems are distorted and made into individual challenges.

Obama himself was a kind of evidence of this development; After all, there can't be racism in the United States when the president is black! This individualization, where social problems are explained by reference to poor personal choices, took place as part of a widespread attack on post-war wage productivity compromise, where access to welfare and consumption was generalized to large sections of the white population and smaller groups of black residents of USA. From the early 1970s, however, social reproduction was severely saved, affecting especially the already disadvantaged sections of the American population, primarily African Americans. They suffered more than anyone else under the neoliberal savings policy, which became a red thread in American politics from Nixon over Reagan and Clinton to this day. And that is, of course, the background of the BLM and the protests that erupted seriously in the fall of 2014. A centuries-old history of slavery, racism and inequality, a story that is by no means over. It is the election of Trump the sad expression of.

In retrospect, it is clear that a real settlement of American racism was never part of Obama's project.

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Liberation and Trump. If the election of Barack Obama for president in 2009 seemed to be a turning point in the history of racist state repression of African Americans in the United States, a turning point that is otherwise "political" within the framework of representative national democracy, where a black man as president of the United States indeed was one novelty, then the election of Donald J. Trump is a huge backlash. Throughout his election campaign, Trump thundered against racially oppressed, immigrants, women and soon to be all conceivable minorities. Although Trump's political project may seem like a circus – he constantly contradicts himself and seems to go more into satisfying his own boundless narcissism – his political program is a racist and xenophobic nationalism, or what we might call late capitalist fascism. The project is to recreate an endangered American greatness, give shape to an authentic national community in which the white, handsome man decides. Trump is putting things in place, that is his promise to voters. We forget about the black president, lock even more black criminals in, and throw out the immigrants: America must be made big – and white – again.

As Taylor points out, the structural contradictions are so great in the United States today that conflicts will simply be stepped up. Trump is an expression of that himself: Now the velvet gloves are on the shelf. The fronts are drawn up and the counter-revolution is organized. Taylor argues that the BLM is already an actual revolutionary movement, that is, that the revolution is also organized. I'm not so sure. The destruction of the Western labor movement, of the black resistance and the revolutionary tradition is so extensive that it is not only difficult to stack a continuous revolutionary criticism on its feet, but also unclear how exploitation and domination are linked. But let's hope that Taylor is right and that revolutionary organization is underway. Otherwise, we must rely on the uprising as the moment when things explode in a spontaneous upheaval. We may perhaps rewrite the old mantra of Luxembourg and say that the United States faces the choice between black socialism or barbarism.

See Black Power – Black Power

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Mikkel Bolt
Professor of political aesthetics at the University of Copenhagen.

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