by The Spark
“The system is broken”—the words of a young black man in Minneapolis watching flames destroy a police precinct demonstrators had torched.
Broken? Yes, it is! What else could you say about a system whose police for nine minutes casually knelt on a black man’s neck, watching until he stopped breathing—and then, just as casually, reported the man had died from a “medical incident”? If it hadn’t been for a bystander’s video, it would have been just one more lying police report, filed away in a dusty drawer.
George Floyd paid the price for this broken system with his life. He is not the first black person to pay that price in Minneapolis-St. Paul, only the most recent. Coming not so long before him, there was Thurman Blevins, and before him, Philando Castile and Jamar Clark.
And Minneapolis is not the only city to have a murder-by-cop exposed by video, a murder that otherwise would have been buried with the victim’s corpse. That’s why we know the names of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Brandon Webber, Antonio Smith, and Darrius Stewart in Memphis and Eric Garner in Staten Island, among so many others. It’s why we know the name of Ahmaud Arbery from Glynn County, Georgia, who was murdered by a former investigator for the sheriff’s department and local prosecutor.
The system is broken
No, it’s not just one barbaric beating, and not just one city. It’s the system, and it’s broken.
Born in slavery, this capitalist system, based on the exploitation of labor, is still marked by its beginnings. Almost from the moment the chains of slavery were torn apart in 1863, the once-enslaved black population was condemned to occupy the bottom ranks of “free labor”: driven onto chain gangs and prison labor working in Southern fields; pushed into sharecropping; later funneled into the reserve army of the unemployed by Northern capital.
In general, black labor still occupies that place, absorbing the worst unemployment in periods of crisis, temporarily filling the open slots in the ever shorter periods of expansion. This role for the black population was a creation of a capitalist system still carrying the marks of its birth in slavery. It’s what leads today to the greater rates of poverty among black people; it underlays the worse medical care and the worse school systems, worse levels of imprisonment.
This oppression explains the violence that systematically has been visited on the black population by those in authority. Officially sanctioned violence is what capitalism has used to keep the oppressed from revolting—all of the oppressed, black and white.
Yes, there are many white people, poor white people, killed by cop. White workers are also exploited. But white workers—including all the immigrant groups, one after the other, who have been funneled into the working class over time—have been given the petty privilege of their skin color, which means not quite so low a wage, slightly less poverty, slightly better access to education and medical care, etc. But slightly better doesn’t mean good. White workers may share their skin color with the capitalist class that sits on top of this society, but they do not share the wealth.
Every part of the working class has reason to revolt
Every part of the working class has reason to revolt against this capitalist system that produces great wealth for those on top, creating growing poverty among those who do the work society needs. Today, this system is exposing us to untold thousands of deaths linked directly to the way it handled the virus. It is pulling us down the rabbit hole of its own economy in collapse. And it requires violence to maintain itself.
Now what? A somewhat older black woman in Minneapolis, looking at the burnt out police precinct, said this: “It’s like layer and layer and layer of gunpowder building over a long time and when you become an adult, it’s this stick of dynamite.”
This past week, in Minneapolis, the dynamite began to explode. And, as has happened so often before, young black people were leading the way.
There will be explosions. But beyond the explosions—if this time they are to produce the change the population needs—there needs to be a clear goal for the struggle. We must fight to get rid of the system that is broken, this capitalist system, which has created the oppression, exploitation and violence weighing more heavily on the black population, but still weighing on the whole working class. There need to be people standing for this goal among the oppressed who want to fight back.
The Spark is produced every three weeks by the US Marxist group of the same name. The above is the editorial from the June 1-June 15 issue. You can read the newspaper here.