Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pages From History: Reflections on the Newark Rebellion of 1967

Workers World in 1967
Published Mar 6, 2008 10:16 PM

Editor’s Note: Workers World is in its 50th year of publication. Throughout 2008, we intend to share with our readers some of the paper’s content over the past half century. The following article on the historic Newark rebellion was originally published on the front page of WW in the issue dated July 20, 1967. The article was written by the late theoretical leader and chairperson of Workers World Party, Sam Marcy.

The news article alongside Marcy’s article explains that the rebellion began on July 13, 1967, the day after Newark police arrested a Black cab driver, John William Smith, for driving “too close behind a police car.” They beat Smith in the police station and charged him with resisting arrest.

During his arraignment Smith shouted into a microphone: “There was absolutely no resistance! That is a cover story. They caved in my ribs, busted a hernia and put a hole in my head. They did the damage.”

When word spread about what had happened to Smith, the Black masses came out and pelted the station. Mayor Hugh Addonizio ordered an “investigation” of charges of police brutality to be carried out by the police themselves. The uprising then began and lasted four days.

Police stations were attacked and squad cars and stores burned. The ruling class called in hundreds of state troopers and 2,000 national guardsmen who together with the police killed 25 men, women and children and wounded more than a thousand.

The legacy of gross unemployment and police brutality, the root cause of the 1967 rebellion, continues forty-one years later in Newark, with an official poverty rate of nearly one-third of the population.
Long live the Newark Rebellion

Glorious answer to master class
Armed resistance turning point in struggle

By Sam Marcy

They did not die in vain. Those who were brutally murdered, mercilessly beaten, shot at, wounded and jailed will forever be remembered by the oppressed and exploited everywhere as symbols of glorious resistance to the unendurable oppression of a master class whose arrogance, cruelty, and indifference to human life has few parallels in history.

The embattled people of Newark have written a truly momentous chapter in the history of the liberation struggle. Their deeds are still reverberating throughout the four corners of the earth. It is no exaggeration to say that they have drawn the attention of practically all humankind and demonstrated, by their example, the indomitable will and inflexible determination of the Black People to achieve their freedom at whatever cost.

The ruling class and its servitors, its pious priests, and pliant press, its gunmen and its executioners—all who helped, each in his own way, to subdue the rebellious people—will forever be pilloried by later generations of all humankind.

“Looters,” “snipers,” “thieves,” “rioters on a rampage”: these are the ancient epithets hurled at all the oppressed wherever and whenever they seek to unshackle themselves from slavery. Have not these very epithets been hurled at all revolutionary uprisings beginning with the great Peasant Uprisings of the 14th and 15th centuries, through the French Revolution and all the way down the line up to and including the latest revolutionary convulsions?

In its historic contest for class supremacy with older social formations, the bourgeoisie committed unbelievable crimes and inflicted the most wanton destruction in order to expropriate the land and property of entire social classes, peoples, and vast continents. Invariably the bourgeoisie used the most unmitigated terror: conquest by fire and sword.

By comparison, the so-called “lootings” in Newark, about which the bourgeois press raves so much, are merely individual expropriations incidental to the struggle. They are in reality pitifully small and born out of the depths of simple hunger and deprivation. Yet the bourgeois press squealed like a stuck pig as though these incidents were a death blow to its entire social system.

Newark signifies a crossing of the Rubicon. In a certain sense a turning point in the struggle has been reached. Both the oppressor and the oppressed have for a long time sensed its coming and have long anticipated it. Now it has descended with a suddenness and might that has literally shaken the racist structure to its very foundations. The Newark experience demonstrates that the volcanic character of explosions in the ghettoes are of a general and abiding nature and can in no way be attributed to temporary, conjunctural, or accidental factors as the master class would have the world believe.

The Newark rebellion exceeds in social significance, if not in magnitude, the historic upheaval in Watts. Newark came after Watts, after Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo and other cities. By the time the tidal wave of rebellion reached Newark the masses instinctively knew the outcome of the uneven struggle, and the measure of the range of the enemy for vengeance.

The cruel and inhuman vengeance visited on the populace in the rebellious ghettoes by the terrorist apparatus of the bourgeoisie could not but leave a marked imprint on the consciousness of the Black people of Newark.

There is deep and profound meaning to a battle where the combatants can gauge fairly well that its immediate outcome will be unfavorable, but nevertheless still are willing to engage the enemy spontaneously, with audacity and determination. It is this element which imparts an entirely new character to the struggle.

While the immediate result may appear unfavorable in the sense that the people were overcome by sheer overwhelming brute force, the battle of Newark can in no way be regarded as a defeat. On the contrary, the very character of the “defeat” lays the basis for ultimate victory. For the true import of Newark lies in the fact that it galvanized as never before the Black masses in an enduring bond which will not succumb to the mere employment of naked violence alone.

The spontaneous character of the ghetto uprisings is both their strength and their weakness. No great modern social revolution has ever taken place without it being preceded by a spontaneous convulsion of the revolutionary masses and their direct intervention in the political arena, often in defiance of their own leaders and always in contravention of the acceptable norms of political behavior set by their oppressors.

Without the masses first taking matters into their own hands it is doubtful if any of the great revolutions of modern times would have been successful. The word revolution itself has practically and almost always been synonymous with direct and spontaneous interventions of the popular masses themselves. Only afterward have the leaders acted and, in the celebrated cases of successful revolutions, shown the path to victory. Naturally, as in the case of Newark and other ghetto uprisings, the masses acted only under continuous provocation and under conditions of insufferable oppression.

The master class has for a long time entertained the notion that it can cultivate and develop whole stratum of officialdom in the Afro-American community which would act as its agent among the masses, hold them in tow, extinguish the fires of rebellion whenever they occur, and stabilize the conditions of exploitation and oppression. But the uprisings in the ghettoes and the course they have taken have shown beyond doubt the utter hollowness of any such notions. For the masses followed their own inclinations and instincts and were deaf to any who came with special pleading for surrender.

The frequent failure of established leadership to give voice, direction, and organization to the hopes and aspirations of the popular masses in periods of social crisis has been worldwide in character and has its origins in the great social power of capital over the laboring masses and in the conservatism of the old social order generally. It would be strange if this did not in some measure also apply to the Afro-American community.

In the crucible of prolonged rebellion, revolutionary leadership is sure to develop and measure up to the great historic opportunity for liberation.

The battle of Newark has at last brought to clear visibility the true nature of the Black liberation struggle as having both a national and class character at the same time.

The authoritative organ of U.S. finance capital, the New York Times, on July 16th, makes the extraordinary admission that “the United States is torn by a confrontation between the two nations that inhabit it, the 11 percent the census calls Negroes and the great majority, those who many young Negroes call ‘Whitey.’”

“Confrontations between the two nations that inhabit it”! This is a true sociological generalization which this organ of the ruling class is forced to make in order to bring its own conceptions in harmony with reality so as to be able to better cope with the rising tide of Black liberation. Marxists and Leninists of course should have always known that there are two nations within the framework of one giant imperialist state.

What is of course missing in the Times’ admission of the “two nations” is the class character of each of them. Given the imperialist character of the state and the social system which it represents, it has been obligatory to characterize the white nation as the oppressing one and the Black nation as the oppressed. This has often been befogged and clouded by an overgrowth of bourgeois ideology, which denies the independent character of the Afro-American movement and its right to determine its own independent destiny, free from the will of the oppressing nation and the master class which dominates both nations.

More often than not, exponents of bourgeois liberal ideology have sought to make the Afro-American liberation movement an appendage to their politics and in the service of capitalism. They not only deny the independent character of the movement but hinder its development by trying to obliterate its national and class character. The scope and breadth of the present movement has made their theoretical pretensions ridiculous especially in the light of recent events.

However, clarifying the nature of the Afro-American liberation struggle does not give a prescription for white workers and progressives to preach any kind of separatism whatsoever but merely to redouble their efforts for solidarity with the Black people and against the virulence of racism, and for the right of self-determination for Black people; that is, the right to determine for themselves their own path to freedom and equality with others.

The urgent task for the white workers and progressives generally today is to demonstrate in words and deeds genuine working class solidarity with the Black people in the current unfolding struggle and to stick with them through all their trials and tribulations. This in turn will also help the white workers to free themselves from bondage to “their own” imperialist masters and revive the historical conditions for the common emancipation of both black and white from capitalist slavery.
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