Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, speaking at the MECAWI-sponsored conference on the role of the United States in African affairs on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008 in Detroit. (Photo: Cheryl LaBash).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
These are the comments delivered by Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor of the Pan-African News Wire, to the Workers World Black History Month Program on February 29, 2008 in New York City.
It is very important and significant that this gathering is taking place at the conclusion of African-American History Month 2008 and on the eve of International Women's History Month since the questions of national and gender oppression have been an integral part of the struggle against capitalism and imperialism in the United States.
For many centuries there has been an ever increasing contradiction between the decreasing number of those institutions and individuals who control the means of production and the escalating number of those who are exploitated by the bosses, bankers and land owners.
Today we are in a critical period as it relates to the crisis in global capitalism and the efforts on the part of working people and the oppressed to mount an adequate defense against deepening levels of economic exploitation and political repression.
Preemptive war, pertpetual military occupations, destabilization campaigns directed against nations in the so-called Third World and the continuing assault on the wages and living standards of people inside the United States can only be halted and reversed through a well organized struggle lead by people at the grassroots level.
However, the origins of this historical process was analyzed by Karl Marx in 1871 when he wrote that:
"The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England's anti-jacobin war, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, etc." (Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I, p. 823).
In 1944 another writer who was inspired in large part by the work of Karl Marx, Eric Williams of Trinidad, studied in detail the impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on the rise of industrial capitalism in Europe and consequently in the Americas. A chapter in the book entitled "Capitalism and Slavery" dissects the developmental role of the triangular slave trade on the rise of British industry.
In a section on 'The Investment of the Profits From the Triangular Trade' in specific reference to banking Williams states that:
"Many of the eighteenth century banks established in Liverpool and Manchester, the slaving metropolis and the cotton capital respectively, were directly associated with the triangular trade. Here large sums were needed for the cotton factories and for the canals which improved the means of communication between the two towns." (Eric Williams, Capitalism & Slavery, p. 98).
Eventually the same economic interests that were built and influenced by the slave system and turned into industrial manufacturing and international finance capital, turned against this form of exploitation.
Williams states in Capitalism & Slavery with specific reference to the Caribbean and England, but which can be applicable to the situation prevailing during the mid-19th century in the United States, that:
"Whereas Before, in the eighteenth century, every important vested interest in England was lined up on the side of monopoly and the colonial system; after 1783, one by one, every one of those interets came out against monopoly and the West Indian slave system. British exports to the world were manufactured goods which could be paid for only in raw materials--the cotton of the United States, the cotton, coffee and sugar of Brazil, the sugar of Cuba, the sugar and cotton of India. The expansion of British exports depended on the capacity of Britain to absorb the raw material as payment." (Williams: Capitalism & Slavery", p. 154).
With the expansion of colonialism in Africa, the former Spanish holdings in the Caribbean and the Philippines, plus the continuing growth of manufacturing in the western industrializing nations, tens of millions of people were forced off the land as serfs, peasants and tenant farmers and thrust into the urban areas of the United States and other regions of the world as assembly-line workers, hourly employees, operatives in the informal economy and the unemployed. As a result we had the rise and intensification of the class struggle through the formation of labor unions, industrial actions, mass demonstrations, urban rebellions, popular social movements of the nationally oppressed, women and the poor.
The Significance of Detroit in the Transformation of Global Capitalism
In regard to the historical and contemporary situation in Detroit it is quite instructive to examine how this metropolitan area has prefigured developments in other urban areas throughout the country. It was the rise of industrial manufacturing in the areas of steel and automobiles that fueled the migration into Detroit from not only the black belt regions and appalachain mountains of the South but from around the world in Europe and the Middle-east.
This great migration of workers into Detroit and other industrial areas of the United States created the social conditions for the rise of the AFL-CIO, the United Automobile Workers (UAW), United Steel Workers, AFSCME, etc. The formation of these industrial organizations of the proliteriat by no means came easily. It would take years to build up the courage, administrative capacity and to overcome the impediments of racism, gender oppreesion and national chauvinism in order for the union to gain proper recognition and to make advances in regard to acquiring the eight-hour day, a semblance of safe working conditions, vacation time, sick leave, health care and educational benfits.
Despite these advances, the mechanism of racial capitalism, which became predominant in the United States during the 20th century, prevented the trade union movement from reaching its full potential. Later the impact of the anti-communist hysteria of the post World War II period, would drive many socialists out of the trade union structures. The capitalist class, in their efforts to maintain dominance and control, would offer greater wages, better working conditions and structural advancements to white workers.
Hence in 1942-43 racial tensions would boil over in the city of Detroit, where in June of 1943 one of the worst episodes of civil unrest would occur right in the midst of United States involvement in World War II. In the aftermath of the War a massive urban renewal project would disrupt the African-American community in the city and create the conditions for the construction of federally-funded expressways to take whites to the expanding surburban communities. The growth of suburbanization outside Detroit and in cities across the country was the result of direct government involvement and social planning.
Nevertheless, the advent of the mass civil rights movement beginning in the mid-to-late 1950s would open the way for the reemergence of the struggle against racism within industry and the union itself. Some union leaders were forced to provide tactical support for the minimal demands of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time new layers of young black workers would enter industry in Detroit and bring into existence a level of militancy not seen since the 1930s and 1940s during the drive for union recogntion.
Hence in the late 1960s there emerged the so-called wildcat strike as a means of resistance to the growing superexploitation of labor. In early 1968, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) would set the political tone for an anti-capitalist struggle independent of the union leadership that would shake up the perception of labor-management cooperation within industry.
The example at Dodge Main in Hamtramack would spread to other plants, workplaces and schools throughout the city. The following year in 1969, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW) was formed linking the various plant committees from throughout the city in alliance with community organizations and student groups. The LRBW was anti-capitalist and sought to form alliances with other revolutionary workers movements throughout the country and the world.
The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Forty Years Later
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps the greatest leader of a mass social movement in the history of the United States. King came out of the South and emerged during a critical period of anti-communist hysteria coupled with a rise in racist violence against the African-American people.
In fact it was the growing mass and militant character of the civil rights struggle in the South and the North which broke the back of McCarthyism in the United States. Public figures from King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the youth movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Nation of Islam and Organization of Afro-American Unity's (OAAU) Malcolm X which liberated speech during the 1960s.
Just as the true history of the labor movement in this country is hidden and distorted, we can say the same thing in regard to the civil rights and black power struggles in the United States. During this period history moved quite rapidly and a number of social advancements took place in regard to the political consciousness prevailing among the masses of people. Many began to envision the potential for total social transformation and a revolutionary triumph over the forces of racism, national oppression, gender oppression and all forms of exploitation.
What is always overlooked in the annual corporate recognition of the federal holiday honoring Dr. King is the fact that his political views were evolving at a rapid rate during the last two years of his life. The King of 1955-56 was different than the one of 1963-65. Moreover, the King of 1966-1968 took on a much deeper view of the ability of American capitalism and imperialism to grant genuine equality to the African-American people.
In 1966 Dr. King marched alongside SNCC leaders who called for black power in the delta region of Mississippi. Although he remained committed to non-violence as a form of struggle, he refused to condemn the urban rebellions in Watts, Chicago, Detroit and other cities. In April of 1967, Dr. King came out forcefully in opposition to the American involvement in Vietnam.
He stated that war prevented the federal government from devoting much needed resources to the domestic efforts to eliminate poverty. He had planned to take thousands of poor people of all nationalities to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1968 in order to stay as long as necessary until the Congress addressed the problem of structural unemployment and poverty in the country.
Dr. King's last political campaign was in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. He had been invited there by Rev. James Lawson who headed the strike committee for the all-black sanitation workers union that sought recognition from the racist administration of Henry Loeb. This struggle in Memphis in early 1968 represented the developing character of the movements for social and economic justice.
However, King would be martyred by an assassin's bullet on April 4. In the aftermath of his death over 125 rebellions would erupt throughout the United States. Although the Poor People's Campaign did continue with the settling of hundreds of people from the rural communities of the South and the urban areas of the North, the government crushed the effort and in many ways closed the chapter on any possibly for nonviolent social change in the country.
Yet the last campaign of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis forty years ago contains many lessons for us today in the first decade of the 21st Century. Fortunately, new scholarship is emerging on the history of the civil rights and labor movements and their intersection. In a recent book written by Detroit-native Michael K. Honey, entitled: "Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign," takes a serious look at the significance of what Dr. King was involved in at the time of his assassination.
Honey points to the desperate nature of the sanitation workers in Memphis by stating that:
"Many sanitation workers made so little that they qualified for welfare even after working a forty-hour week. And they couldn't even count on those hours--white supervisors sent them home without pay or fired them on the slightest pretext. Like most whites in Memphis, many of these supervisors were still accustomed to thinking of blacks as their personal servants. They called people like Ed Gillis--seventy-two years old in 1968--'boy'....
"Gillis, like black urban factory workers, was skilled at 'taking it' from whites, but he could only stand so much abuse. On February 12 (1968), Lincoln's birthday--just over a week after the deaths of Cole and Walker (two sanitation workers), and a few days after being shortchanged on pay--Gillis and others on the sewer and drainage crew didn't show up for work--nor did workers in the sanitation division....
"Nearly 1,300 black men in the Memphis Department of Public Works, giving no notice to anyone, went on strike. Little did they imagine that their decision would challenge generations of white supremacy in Memphis and have staggering consequences for the nation." (Honey: Down Jericho Road, pp. 3-4).
Capitalism in Crisis and the Growing Fightback
The mass struggles of working and poor people today take on added significance in light of the economic downturn in the United States and throughout the capitalist world. One clear manifestation of the deepening crisis is the developing problem of home losses.
This has been described in various forms by the corporate media as the "credit crunch" or the so-called "sub-prime mortgage mess." However, this characterization tends to minimize the actual enormity of the economic dilemma for the bankers and financial interests in the US and Europe. This supposed sub-prime mortgage crisis is not only reflective of the problems associated with predatory lending. Some the largest financial institutions have been forced to "write off" losses of tens of billions of dollars.
In today's news it was stated that the American International Group (AIG) reported a further quarter loss of $5.3 billion. In an editorial printed in today's Wall Street Journal it points to losses by two of the largest mortgage guarantors: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, of $6.1 billion the fourth quarter.
According to the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 29, 2008: "If they continue losing money at current rates, in fact, they could find themselves below their mandatory capital requirements in another six months or so.... Like maxed-out consumers who were about to reach their credit limit, Fannie and Freddie already hit up investors for a cool $13.8 billion in additional capital last quarter. But as they continue to lose money, their capital position remains tenuous.
"So now, with the help of Senator Schumer and other friends on the hill, they're trying to get their credit limits raised."
The problems of foreclosures has gotten so bad that many people are making conscious decisions to walk away from their homes. They are finding themselves in homes that are decreasing in value while the Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM) are driving monthly payments through the roof.
Amazingly enough, a new firm has been created in California to facilitate families in carrying out this process. You Walk Away (YouWalkAway.com), will for the cost of $995, work with families to voluntarily foreclose on their properties.
One of the economists for a leading investment banking firm, Goldman Sachs, estimated that: "as much as $3 trillion in mortgages could be underwater by the end of the year, leaving 30% of the country's outstanding mortgages in negative equity. Since there is roughly $1 trillion in subprime mortgages outstanding, that means a large amount of better quality mortgages, such as prime and Alt-A--a category between prime and subprime--will be attached to negative equity."
This crisis is being compounded with the declining value of the American dollar. Just yesterday the dollar sank to new lows against the Euro, making a 40% decline in the last six years. Even leading capitalists themselves are saying that: "the currency is in danger of eventually losing its place as the world's dominant currency. Jim Roger, a well-known commodity investor and a former investor and former partner of famed currency trader George Soros, has a particularly bleak assessment: 'The dollar is a terribly flawed currency, its days are numbered, citing the large scale foreign-held debt as a major culprit." (Quotes from the Wall Street Journal, Feb. 29, 2008).
In Detroit, the largest city in the state of Michigan, the crisis is magnified do to the large scale capitalist relocation of the industrial base. In Michigan it has been stated that nearly 400,000 jobs have been loss since the year 2000. In southeastern Michigan alone, some 72,000 households have faced some form of foreclosure over the last two years.
MECAWI has demanded that the governor delcare an economic state of emergency and consequently evoke a moratorium on all foreclosures, evictions and utility shut-offs in the state. This was done during the 1930s and despite the fact that it was challenged by the bankers, the moratorium was upheld by the United States Supreme Court at the time. This moratorium on foreclosures during the Great Depression of the 1930s gave people up to five years to work out reasonable repayment plans on their mortgages.
There have been several mass meeting where people have come out to Central United Methodist Church to seek a solution to this crisis. MECAWI picketed a national meeting of big city Mayors held in Detroit at the newly-constructed MGM Casino Hotel. The demonstration gained considerable press coverage even in the so-called mainstream media.
Even Mayor Kilpatrick of Detroit said he would support a moratorium as a solution to the crisis. Unfortunately a letter from MECAWI signed by dozens of community residents and organizers, even a resolution by the City Council, requesting that he demand Michigan Governor Granholm declare an economic emergency, has gone unanswered.
In late January MECAWI took over 100 people to demonstrate outside the State Capital in Lansing demanding that a state of emergency be declared during the Governor's annual address. Most recently, MECAWI won a restraining order from the US District Court allowing the organization to distribute pro-moratorium leaflets inside a series of "avoid foreclosure" forums sponsored by the State's Attorney General Mike Cox.
The court action by MECAWI was sparked by its physical exclusion from an earlier gathering at Cobo Conference Center in downtown Detroit. The event was attended by the same banks and financial institutions that created the current crisis. Most of the over 4,000 working people who were deceptively invited to attend the event, walked away with no solutions to their immediate problems of imminent eviction and possible homelessness.
Nevertheless, MECAWI has no illusions about the ability of legal precedent to win this economic demand on behalf of working people in the State. This demand will only be won through a popular struggle which can exert adequate political pressure on the politicians. In our view there is no other short term solution other than a moratorium.
Moreover, even with a moratorium, the problems of the growing crisis in global capitalism can only be resolved over the long term through a mass struggle that attacks the exploitative system at his roots. There is no permanent solution to the growing problems of declining wages and benefits, rising unemployment and underemployment, massive home foreclosures, evictions, utility shut-offs, the lack of health care benefits, quality education, and the need for child and senior services, short of a transition to socialism.