Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, sitting at the Labor Monument in Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit on September 27, 2008. (Photo: Alan Pollock)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
State Repression and the Economic Crisis
Police terrorism, bank-imposed austerity and the erosion of bourgeois democracy
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Note: The following address was delivered at a Workers World public meeting in Detroit on June 9, 2012.
Our topic today, “Bigotry, Violence and the Capitalist State: The Double Standard of the One Percent,” could not have come at a better time. Every day we are faced with greater assaults on our consciousness and well-being by the exploitative system of national oppression and class rule.
What is the basis for these escalating acts of racist, gender-based and state violence against the working class and the oppressed? Why in this period where United States and world imperialism is threatening governments and organizations across the globe for their purported violations of human rights and failure to protect civilians, where inside this country there are some of the worse acts of brutality and blatant disregard for peoples’ aspirations?
First we must reaffirm that within the capitalist system under which we live the state is designed to maximize the profit-making capacity of the ruling class. The organs of the capitalist state: the police, the governmental agencies and the so-called mass media are established and administered to serve the banks and the bosses.
V.I. Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Party, the engineer of the first revolution against capitalism and the founder of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), wrote in his classic work “The State and Revolution,” that “According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order’, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes. In the opinion of the petty-bourgeois politicians, however, order means the reconciliation of classes, and not the oppression of one class by another; to alleviate the conflict means reconciling classes and not depriving the oppressed classes of definite means and methods of struggle to overthrow the oppressors.” (The State and Revolution, p. 3)
With specific reference to the police, the military and other armed agents of the capitalist state, Lenin draws on the work of Engels’ “The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.” Lenin notes that “Engels elucidates the concept of the ‘power’ which is called the state, a power which arose from society but places itself above it and alienates itself more and more from it. What does this power mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc., at their command.” (Lenin, p. 4)
Lenin quotes Engels directly pointing out that “It [the public power] grows stronger, however, in proportion as class antagonisms within the state become more acute and as adjacent states become larger and more populous. We have only to look at our present-day Europe, where class struggle and rivalry in conquest have tuned up the public power to such a pitch that it threatens to swallow the whole of society and even the state.” (p. 5)
At the turn of the century and leading into the first world war, the concentration of wealth and the rise of modern-day colonialism and imperialism created the necessity on the part of the international bourgeoisie to strengthen its grip on societies as a whole. More sophisticated systems of repression and exploitation inevitably arose with even wider reaches into all aspects of culture and social life.
Lenin continues in reference to Engels stressing that “This was written not later than the early nineties of the last century (19th), Engels last preface being dated June 16, 1891. The turn towards imperialism—meaning the complete domination of the trusts, the omnipotence of the big banks, a grand-scale colonial policy, and so forth—was only just beginning in France, and was even weaker in North America and in Germany. Since the ‘rivalry in conquest’ has taken a gigantic stride, all the more because the beginning of the second decade of the 20th century the world had been completely divided up among these ‘rivals in conquest,’ i.e., among the predatory Great Powers. Since then, military and naval armaments have grown fantastically and the predatory war of 1914-1917 for the domination of the world by Britain or Germany, for the division of the spoils, has brought the ‘swallowing’ of all the forces of society by the rapacious state power close to complete catastrophe.” (Lenin, p. 5-6)
The U.S. As a Settler-Colonial State
Since its formation in the late 18th century, the United States has been a racist and class structured society. The state was born out of the struggle against British imperialism--a conflict which arose between feudal-oriented bourgeois nation, Britain, and the rising bourgeoisie within the colonies located inside the eastern regions of North America.
What can never be overlooked, and what is essential to understanding the class character of the state in this country, is that the material basis for the formation of the U.S. was the forced removal and extermination of the Native peoples coupled with the importation and enslavement of Africans. This history is often justified by the ruling class by asserting that there were not that many Native people and that the Africans bore partial responsibility for their own enslavement.
These false claims became totally indefensible during the 20th century as the struggle for national liberation intensified which produced scholarship that exposed the dialectical relationship between Native genocide, African enslavement and the rise of imperialism in Europe and North America. In other words, it was the theft of the land of Native peoples and the exploitation of African labor that provided the economic underpinning of monopoly capitalism, industrialization and world imperialism.
In the U.S. it would take nearly nine decades after the Declaration of Independence for the institution of slavery to be abolished legally through the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. However, slavery would have not been abolished even then without the resistance to bondage by Africans, the decline in profitability of the slave system during the 1850s and the advent of the Civil War which resulted in the deaths of a million people and the displacement of millions more.
Even after the legal end of slavery (13th Amendment) and the passage of the 14th Amendment and 15th Amendments to the Constitution as well as the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, 1871 and 1875, the ruling class in both the South and the North were able to sacrifice Reconstruction to ensure the profitability of the rising capitalist class, who in alliance with their European counterparts were able to usher in a new era of colonialism beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century. This expanded form of colonialism, which became characterized as imperialism, engineered the further conquest of the world and the intensification of inter-imperialist rivalry leading to two world wars by the middle of the 20th century.
The two world wars of the first half of the 20th century led to the deaths of tens of millions of people. The system of colonialism and imperialism was responsible for untold numbers of deaths and displacements.
Two striking examples on the African continent are the development of colonialism in Namibia, previously known as Southwest Africa and Congo during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Namibia, the Germans exterminated 60-80 percent of the Herero and Nama peoples between 1904-1907 when they rose up in resistance to exploitation and oppression.
In Congo, King Leopold through his vicious and exploitative system of rubber production, killed 8-10 million Africans and injured many more with the severing of their arms, legs and breasts. The Europeans and Americans earned billions through the system of imperialism which coincided with the rise of mass production commonly known as Taylorism and Fordism.
The supposed inferiority of Africans and people of color was accepted as the norm within ruling circles where pseudo-scientific theories arose to rationalize the suppression of the majority of people throughout the world. Both world wars were based upon the imperial drive for territorial conquest, the supremacy in the process of capital accumulation and dominance of the European peoples.
Nevertheless, the peoples of the world and the workers within the industrial capitalist states resisted these onslaughts by the imperialists. The wars by the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America against the advent of colonialism are a treasured part of the histories of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Inside the U.S. itself, despite the failure of Reconstruction and the rise of lynch law and race terror, Africans fought to maintain their dignity and overthrow the system of oppression. Organizational manifestations such as the campaigns to eradicate lynching, the cultural renaissance, the formation of labor organizations and the self-defense against mob and state violence are well documented.
Yet this struggle between the workers and the oppressed against the capitalist and imperialist rulers has shaped the character of modern life. Even though the form of the oppression may have been altered, the essence of the repressive and exploitative system remains intact no matter how tenuous.
Some Recent Examples of Racist State Violence and Oppression
Well of course some may ask: what does the history of slavery, colonialism and imperialism have to do with the current situation in the U.S.? Was there not a mass civil rights movement during the post-World War II period which provided greater opportunities for Africans and people of color? Did not the formation of labor unions, the development of technology and the globalization of economic production and distribution liberate the oppressed and women of all races?
We do not want to be misunderstood in that the popular, national and class struggles of the people have won tremendous victories over slavery, neo-slavery, national oppression and reaction. However, the ruling class through the capitalist state has and always will attempt to reverse the course of progress and revolution.
The movements that have arisen since the 1920 and 1930s have swept the capitalist world ushering in new eras of social upheaval and class consciousness. Later on we will examine the impact of developments since the second world war, but right now let us address the question of the contemporary escalation of violence and repression against the people.
Since the beginning of 2012, we have witnessed and responded to numerous incidents of violence and repression that are clearly reflective of the ruling class attempt to reverse the course of history. Despite the existence of an African American president and the presence of women in positions of authority within the state, racist and class based violence continues unabated.
Perhaps the most widely known incident of racist violence was the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American youth who was gunned down in Sanford, Florida in February. His killer, George Zimmerman, claims that he was conducting a “neighborhood watch” when he came upon a “suspicious looking black male.”
Calling the cops, who even advised him not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman felt emboldened enough to not only confront the youth but to shoot him dead. Zimmerman initially was not even arrested or charged. If it had not been for the outcry of millions led by the African American community there would never have been the arrest and charging of Martin’s killer.
Let us contrast this with the cases of Marissa Alexander who only fired a warning shot to stave off a possible attack from an estranged abusive spouse which resulted in a twenty year prison sentence. Of course the situation of CeCeMcDonald who was able to save her own life from a murderous ban of Neo-Nazis, ends up getting over three years in prison.
Then there was the police shooting of Kendric McDade in Pasadena, California at the hand of the cops. An athlete and exemplary youth is profiled and killed by the agents of the state.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, which this month we are commemorating the 91st anniversary of one of the most heinous and dreaded episodes in the racist history of the U.S.--where some 300 African Americans were killed and their community burned down by mobs and state agents--at least two white men drove around in a truck in late March killing several African American men and wounding several others.
In early June two other examples of this same pattern took place when Shannon Cooper of South Carolina was arrested at her daughters high school graduation ceremony because she cheered when her daughter walked across the stage. In the city of Chicago, which recently witnessed the highly organized repression surrounding the Anti-NATO Summit demonstrations, made national news again when the cops in the Windy City pepper sprayed a eight-month pregnant woman.
Locally we have witnessed the murder of Michael Haynes at a gas station in northwest Detroit. We have experienced the horror of the cop shooting a man in Inkster that was unprovoked.
As it relates to state repression of a political character, the placing of the City of Detroit and other majority working class cities around Michigan under emergency management and a financial stability agreement represents a clear attack on the right to self-determination and equality even under bourgeois law. Efforts within the legal and political system to reverse this undemocratic process have been attacked and stifled utilizing the courts and the corporate media.
Corporate media outlets for months attempted to brainwash the people of Detroit into thinking that emergency management was the only solution to the economic crisis facing the city. The $16-20 billion in long term debt that the banks and their agents claim is owed by the people of Detroit to them is the result of the racist and exploitative practices of the capitalist system.
It was the capitalist system that concocted and encouraged the capital flight from the city and the region. They then engineered years of predatory lending designed to exploit and swindle hundreds of thousands out of their homes.
The loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, real wages due to pay cuts and lay-offs, the seizure of people’s homes and apartments has resulted in the monumental drainage of tax revenue and population. Between 2000-2010, U.S. Census figures indicate that 237,000 people, one-fourth of the residents, were driven out of the city of Detroit.
Now the banks and their surrogates in the state and city government—at the aegis of the financial institutions—are demanding that the people of Detroit accept virtual re-enslavement in order to pay these corporate vultures. Even if the politicians accepted every demand related to retrenchment, salary reductions and elimination of municipal services, it would still not be nearly enough to satisfy their ever-expanding quest for profits and uncontested political power.
Every attempt at challenging the status-quo has been stifled and subverted by the ruling class and their operatives. When numerous people filed suit within the state courts one year ago to challenge the “constitutionality" of Public Act 4--the “dictator law”--these efforts have been stalled in the legal system.
Later the Stand Up for Democracy organization launched a statewide petition drive to have Public Act 4 suspended and eventually repealed by placing it on the ballot in November, the state elections canvass board vetoed the efforts by saying that the signature forms did not have the correct font size. A legal challenge to this undemocratic decision through the court of appeals won a unanimous ruling upholding the validity of the petitions, however, the court has been stayed the judgment as the three judge panel wants the entire bench to review the precedent for the ruling in order to possibly have it overturned.
During the build-up toward the acceptance under duress of the so-called “Financial Stability Agreement” on April 4, City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson continued to point out that the State of Michigan owed the City of Detroit at least $225 million stemming from a failed revenue-sharing agreement. State Treasurer Andy Dillon even admitted that the money was owed to the city over the radio earlier in 2012.
How can the State of Michigan put Detroit under financial supervision when they have refused to honor an agreement worth not only hundreds of millions in revenue sharing but also other funds owed for unpaid water bills, land reclamation and municipal citations? The City of Detroit has every right to seek repayment for debts owed and to seek this through the courts of both public opinion and of record.
When City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson requested a review of the legality of the Financial Stability Agreement from the City’s Law Department under Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon it was determined that legal action was warranted. A suit was filed demand a declaratory judgment on the legality of the FSA.
The only response to this legal action has been threats and slander against both Watson and Crittendon. The corporate newspapers have written editorials demanding that the lawsuit be withdrawn and calling for the termination of the city’s Corporation Counsel.
In an article in the Detroit News on June 8, it states that “City officials were slapped Thursday with a stern warning from Lansing: Drop a lawsuit alleging that the consent agreement is illegal or face losing millions in revenue-sharing payments.” Well the fact is the city has already lost millions to the state in revenue-sharing which is the substance of the legal action filed by the Corporation Counsel.
This same article reveals that a “three-page letter, sent to new Chief Financial Officer Jack Martin from state Deputy Treasurer Thomas Saxton, has set up a showdown that could force Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council to seek to withdraw the lawsuit filed by the city’s top lawyer over the allegations that the state owes Detroit money.”
Such a letter from Saxton holds no legal weight. Why would the state and the corporate media not allow for the matter to be heard and decided by the courts?
The state is therefore threatening to withhold even more revenue-sharing money if the Corporation Counsel does not drop the lawsuit. What arrogance and racism. In other words if you dare challenge the whims and caprices of the bank-drafted FSA we will strangle you.
To add insult to injury, an editorial by Daniel Howes in the same corporate-oriented Detroit News says that “even to us dimwitted amateur lawyers, that a City Hall attorney is not empowered to undertake legal action without direction from the mayor or City Council or both—not one aggrieved council member named JoAnn Watson flailing for some last-ditch way to avert an inevitable reckoning.”
Detroit’s new charter does provide authority to City Council members and the Law Department to pursue legal claims on behalf of the citizens of Detroit. These editorial writers have chosen to ignore this fact and pursue their continuing assault against the city.
The bank-charged Detroit News in another editorial from June 8 even orders the Mayor to take action against the Corporation Counsel saying that “Bing must order Crittendon to withdraw the lawsuit, and if she refuses, fire her and kill the suit himself…. It is ludicrous that an unelected department head should be able to make such a momentous decision.”
It is even more ludicrous and outrageous that an unelected state review panel, financial advisory board and chief financial officer should be making decisions for Detroit or any other municipality for that matter. Moreover, who elected the banks, corporations and their filthy rags that pose as newspapers to set policy for the city and its over 700,000 residents most of whom are African American?
The Detroit Free Press on the same day, not to be outdone in their editorial declares that “She (Crittendon) does not speak for Detroiters, Bing and the City Council do.” Nevertheless, the corporate media over the last several months have attempted to dictate on behalf of the banks what Detroiters should think and feel in regard to the wholesale takeover and disenfranchisement of the city.
In a classic neo-colonialist tone, the Free Press says in this same editorial that “They ought to reel Crittendon’s ambitions and mischief in, before her lawsuit puts them on the sidelines and the city into unmitigated insolvency.” Detroit has already been exploited, vilified and taken over by corporate interests and therefore the people have no other choice but to resist in whatever way possible.
The following day, June 9, banner headlines in the Detroit Free Press read “Detroit Will be Broke if Lawsuit Isn’t Dropped, Mayor Says.” Here again the bank and corporate-led media creates a “crisis” and the vacillating administration echoes those interests that run contrary to the majority of people in Detroit.
All of these developments through the courts and the political system expose even further the current crisis within the capitalism. Bourgeois democratic law and administrative practices are being made up, selectively enforced and suspended in line with what the ruling class wants at any given moment.
The Legacy of State Repression Since World War II
Since the early 1940s a constant and protracted struggle has been waged against political repression. During World War II over 110,000 Japanese Americans were placed inside detention facilities in the United States.
A recent book published entitled “Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance and a Paradoxical Life,” by Diane C. Fujino, examines the legacy of this Japanese American who was an early member of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in the Bay Area of California. Aoki spent three years in two internment camps in California and Utah as a child and this experience deeply impacted his youth and adulthood.
It would take nearly fifty years for the U.S. government to even acknowledge that any wrongdoing had taken place against the Japanese Americans in the 1940s. Although there were gains made in African American employment during the height of war industry production, after 1945 there was a reversal of many of these advances.
The so-called “Cold War” was also marked by an escalation in racist violence by both the Klan as well as the police. The Civil Rights Movement was met with state repression from the period of the early 1950s right through the 1960s.
From Harry T. and Harriet Moore to Medgar Evers, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Malcolm X, Viola Luizzo, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, the leaders of the African American movement were killed at a phenomenal rate. Thousands more were beaten, firebombed, forced from their homes, jobs as well as jailed and imprisoned.
Nonetheless, the resistance during this period was historic and its impact was felt throughout the entire society and across the world. In Detroit the first massive civil rights march was held in June 1963 that created the conditions for the March on Washington of August in that same year.
The 1967 Rebellion and the subsequent years of struggle within the plants, city government, schools and communities influenced the progressive and revolutionary movement around the country. Consequently, it is no surprise that Detroit is still a targeted area for the ruling class and the capitalist state.
Defeating State Repression and Imperialist War
What we have sought to do here in Detroit and our contribution has been felt and appreciated, is to put the finger at the source of the capitalist crisis. In Detroit the financial institutions have played a central role in destroying the city through denial of credit, usurious interest, predatory lending and failure to impose a moratorium.
Therefore the demand for a moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and utility shut-offs has resonance. This call is being picked up on throughout the country and it has international significance as well. For example in Spain, people are being subjected to seizures of their homes by the banks at a phenomenal rate.
The crisis in Greece has lessons for Detroit where we see the destruction of Athens and other cities by the economic will of the banks in the U.S. and in Europe. The ruling class is implementing austerity in both Greece and the U.S., and for the first time Obama acknowledged half-heartedly the connection between the failures of his policies in Washington with the recession in the Eurozone.
We can anticipate that with the worsening crisis of the capitalist system the masses will be subjected to greater degrees of repression by the state. It is important that we respond to the rising degree of repression with greater organizational efforts.
A broad alliance of groups and activists are needed to address the present situation. As the ruling class becomes more desperate, there will be numerous opening to challenge the status quo.
The contradictions embodied in the exploitative system will also contribute to the rising consciousness among the people. When people realize that there is no real solution that capitalism has to offer, they will seek out broader and deeper solutions to the problems of society, the economy and governance.
The demand for a moratorium and eventual total cancellation of municipal debt has potential to not only strike fear into the ruling class but to provide a rallying cry for the workers and the oppressed. Workers and the oppressed know through their own experience that the banks are the major roadblock to a better standard of living and real freedom.
Consequently when the ruling class, the state and the corporate media calls for more repressive measures to ostensibly “fight the new crime wave” or to “prevent the city becoming lawless,” we must counter by pointing out that it is the capitalist and imperialist system that is the source of all crime within society. We must respond by reiterating that the crimes of the banks, corporations and the Pentagon dwarf all other acts of illegality within the U.S. and around the world.
We must boldly state that the greatest threat to peace and security in the U.S. and around world is the military industrial complex, global finance capital and their agents. Only when capitalism and imperialism are defeated and the construction of socialism has been realized will there be genuine stability and prosperity for all of humanity.