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Katrina, one year later: For black liberation through socialist revolution!

by Fred Bergen Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006 at 8:07 AM

We revolutionaries insist that black liberation, including the conquest of full democratic rights for blacks in the US, can only be achieved through socialist revolution. It is hopeless and naïve to expect the US government to "rebuild for democracy". The face of US capitalist "democracy" was unmasked by Hurricane Katrina, and it's not going to get any prettier.

From the September, 2006 issue of Working Class Emancipation:

One year after Katrina: An indictment of the criminal racism of the ruling class; prospects and a strategy for black liberation

by Fred Bergen August 29, 2006

Working Class Emancipation: 401-837-3685

One year ago, on August 29, 2005, the wind, rain, and ocean storm surge of Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the US Gulf Coast. But it wasn't the weather that was deadly, killing at least 1,800 people, with hundreds more still missing one year later. The storm merely swept away the hypocritical mask of US capitalist "democracy". It revealed to the world a ruling class and its government that could send hundreds of thousands of soldiers halfway around the world on a hair trigger to protect its imperialist interests, but was incapable of and unconcerned with organizing the most basic humanitarian measures for the working class black people of New Orleans. The floods swept away the government's false promises of "civil rights" and "democracy" and revealed that the horrors of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are the ruling class' rehearsal for repression against blacks, other oppressed nationalities, and the working class at home. They exposed the criminality of a ruling class that went far beyond the callous indifference of "heckuva job" Bush or the bungling incompetence of the FEMA bureaucracy: a ruling class whose first reaction to the sight of working class and black masses stranded in the wastelands of the Gulf Coast was, in the words of the Democrat, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, "shoot to kill". Blanco sent National Guard troops, battle-hardened from Iraq, into the city with these orders. The entire black population of the Gulf Coast was once again convicted, without trial or jury, of a crime familiar to most poor black youth in the US: being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin pigment, and the troops were sent in to carry out the execution.

The lynch-mob media whipped up rumors of anarchy on the flooded streets of New Orleans, claiming that rapes and murders were being committed in the refugee-packed Superdome. All these rumors were lies, but they sprang up easily from the fertile ground of the centuries-old campaign of racist demonization of black people in the US that is used to justify police repression and social inequality. The deadly anarchy in New Orleans was the anarchy of capitalism: Katrina proved that a system that devotes brilliant minds and billions of dollars to predicting the wild fluctuations of commodity prices could not prepare for the most predictable (and predicted) natural disaster. The media cheered the entry of killer troops. While hundreds of working class residents of New Orleans, branded as "looters", went to extraordinary lengths rescuing and supplying their neighbors with improvised measures, police and troops mustered their forces to guard the high and dry, wealthy and mostly white suburbs, arms in hand.

Space limitations prevent us from cataloging even a fraction of the injustices suffered by the workers and oppressed people of the Gulf Coast in the year since Hurricane Katrina. We invite hurricane survivors and eyewitnesses to share their observations and conclusions with Working Class Emancipation and we will try to publish and respond to them in future issues. So that the awful truth will not be obliterated by the ruling class' selective history, we propose that the AFL-CIO and Change to Win convene a national panel of inquiry composed of black trade unionists and working class Katrina survivors, empowered to investigate the government's crimes against the people of the Gulf Coast, and recommend measures of restitution.

The year's worth of criminal governmental neglect and abuse do share a common thread: the notoriety of the Katrina disaster has harshly illuminated the racism and inequality endemic to US capitalist society. The government is preparing doomsday plans for global nuclear wars. It is building 40,000 more prison cells for captured immigrant workers, and a continent-wide fortified wall on the Mexican border. The rich live in unfathomable opulence, their every need catered and pampered, their global business empires organizing millions of workers on every continent into cooperative labor. But the Katrina refugees, scattered across the cities of the US, face the reality that confronts most poor and working people: a desperate struggle for jobs, housing, education for their children, and some elusive sense of social security and stability.

While Halliburton and other war profiteers fatten on government reconstruction contracts, bankers and real-estate moguls salivate over the the subsidized theft and reselling of the ruined homes and properties of black workers in New Orleans' flooded city wards, the lynch-mob media complains of "fraud": by refugees trying to stay in their hotels a month too long, or getting more than their share of charity relief supplies.

The exposure of the capitalist government's crimes was only one part of the political result of the hurricane. Katina put the question of liberation on the agenda of broad masses of working class and oppressed people across the US, no matter where they were when the storm made landfall. The unavoidable individual conclusions of millions of workers, the molecular and subterranean changes in mass consciousness, have not yet found a united political voice, although the outrage has forced its way to the surface. During a live televised charity drive on NBC, an obviously emotionally shaken rapper Kanye West, known principally for his reactionary celebration of bourgeois decadence and women-hating lyrics, went off-script and declared "George Bush doesn't care about black people". This brief and limited expression of the anger of millions spread like wildfire and overran the network's attempt to cover it up through censorship.

The conclusion that many cannot fail to draw, beyond Bush's obvious racist contempt for blacks, is that the Civil War and Reconstruction were sabotaged by the reconciliation of the Northern and Southern capitalists in 1877, and were never completed: despite the heroic struggles of what is called (in order to bury it in the past) the "Civil Rights Era", blacks still find themselves prisoners in their own land, cast out of the house that they and their enslaved ancestors built.

The Black Workers League issued a statement on August 23 [1], which said, "The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina ... is a moral and political statement about the meaning of so-called American 'democracy.' The act of leaving hundreds of thousands of Black and poor people to die in the richest country in the world and the treatment of those who survived as criminals and refuse to be discarded as a burden on society, is a crime against humanity." The statement condemns both Democrats and Republicans for their complicity in this crime. It calls for the formation of a Reconstruction Party: "Black, working class and poor survivors need a collective voice that speaks for and represents the interests of those most impacted by this human disaster; a political organization and voice that organizes and expresses the power and will of the people, a Reconstruction Party. Without political power, the most impacted survivors and communities throughout the Gulf Coast will receive little to no resources to rebuild."

We heartily agree that a political party is needed that can represent the workers and oppressed people, and finish the Civil War by putting black liberation at the top of its agenda. But the reformist politics of the B.W.L., its publicists in the Stalinist Workers World Party, and much of the "socialist" left in the US today, will prevent this initiative from succeeding. The B.W.L. makes its perspective clear in the quoted statement, where it says "Without a movement to exercise power and to win public opinion and support at the national and international levels, the U.S. government won't feel the pressure to adequately address in a timely manner the needs of the peoples in and dispersed from the Gulf Coast." In other words, the perspective of the B.W.L. and its publicists is to use radical rhetoric to lobby the capitalist government to do what it has historically been unable and unwilling to do: guarantee black people and workers in general their most fundamental democratic rights. To talk of "exercising power" when the racist capitalist class still has the weapons of the state -- Gov. Blanco's "shoot to kill" troops -- at its command, is simply a delusional cover for the powerless politics of reformism.

The B.W.L. concludes, "The rebuilding of the Gulf Coast ... must become a political model of building a zone of democracy that contributes to the spread of real democracy and social transformation throughout the country. ... This is an historical moment for African Americans and the poor to demand that the U.S. government use its resources to rebuild for democracy and human rights and not for war to destroy and divide."

We revolutionaries insist that black liberation, including the conquest of full democratic rights for blacks in the US, can only be achieved through socialist revolution. It is hopeless and naïve to expect the US government to "rebuild for democracy". The face of US capitalist "democracy" was unmasked by Hurricane Katrina, and it's not going to get any prettier. The statement of the B.W.L. reinforces the false, utopian notions that many workers, black and white, still hold about the nature of capitalist rule. Poverty, the racist criminal in-justice system, sexism, and endless imperialist war: this is what capitalist "democracy" looks like.

For those of us who entrust our future to the struggle of the working class and oppressed people against their capitalist exploiters, these are more than differences in phrasing. They are the difference between an non-class-conscious movement led by reformists, seeking to enforce certain terms of compromise with a ruthless and murderous enemy, and the conscious struggle of the working class for power. Capitalist "democracy", which never fully existed for blacks in the US, cannot be "rebuilt" under the pressure of any movement. Not even the physical infrastructure itself of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be rebuilt for working class black people unless the workers expropriate the tremendous wealth of the petroleum and shipping industries of the Gulf Coast, and apply them in a planned way to solve the social crises which Katrina only made more severe. Nothing short of socialist revolution can achieve this.

[1] Quoted from Workers World Aug. 28 2006, on-line at

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