Arturo Alfonso Schomburg January 24, 1874 – June 8, 1938

 

Salute to the memory of

ARTURO ALFONSO SCHOMBURG

on the anniversary of his birth

 

 

By Carlito Rovira

 

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was an Afro-Boricua scholar who devoted his entire life to compiling vast collections of writings and art documenting significant events in Black history. When Shcomburg was just 8 years old he was told by a school teacher that Black people had no history. This assertion naturally bothered him for a long time.

But as he gradually grew older, Schomburg found the teacher’s claim to make absolutely no sense. That encounter became Schomburg’s motivation which led him to set out and prove wrong such racist notions.

African chattel slavery also touched upon Puerto Rico, which became the consequence of Spanish colonialism in both Africa and Latin America.

Before moving to New York City, Schomburg was a member of the clandestine Revolutionary Committees of Puerto Rico. Years before Schomberg’s birth it organized an anti-slavery & pro-independence uprising in 1868 known as El Grito De Lares. Although that attempt to rid Puerto Rico of Spanish colonialism failed, the movement for independence continued to exist. Throughout his life Schomburg remained a firm advocate for Puerto Rico’s independence.

 

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As the persecution of Black people in the United States intensified, with lynching and white racist riots presenting a dangerous and menacing setting, coupled by Schomburg’s childhood memory of a demeaning comment made to him by a school teacher, raised his commitment to the idea of affirming the validity and truth of Black history.

Ridiculing the racist fables about the origins and history of Black people became Schomburg’s central focus. His noble quest eventually proved indisputably the extent of white supremacy’s corruption and baseless reasoning for existing.

Once in New York City, and for the remainder of his life, Schomburg collected large amounts of materials relevant to the history of Africa and the African diaspora. His work unavoidably brought to light the falsehood of white historians who interpreted the history of human social development strictly from a European perspective, thus concealing what are the African people’s pivotal role in that process.

Schomburg’s scholarly work was indeed revolutionary; it was part of a historical countering trend in academic and scientific fields that exposed the hypocrisy of racist and anti-working class apologists for capitalism — such were adherents of Social-Darwinism, Eugenics, etc.

 

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Arturo Alfonso Schomberg

 

Schomburg became a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance. Along with famous figures like Langston Hughes this movement succeeded in challenging the ideological facets of white supremacy through the literary, visual and performing arts.

The collection of literature and art materials he compiled are permanently housed at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem. Arturo Alfonso Schomberg shall forever be remembered as a hero of the oppressed, by those who fight for Puerto Rico’s independence and by those engaged in the historical struggle for Black liberation.

 

Arturo Alfonso Schomberg — PRESENTE!

QUE VIVA PUERTO RICO LIBRE!

 

 

 

Remember Fred Hampton & Mark Clark

By Carlito Rovira

 

The wave of repression unleashed on the Black liberation movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s by the FBI’s “Operation COINTELPRO” reached its height with a series of murderous attacks on the Black Panther Party. One of the most horrendous episodes of this onslaught took place on Dec. 4, 1969, when Black Panther Party figures Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by police.

In a coordinated effort between the Illinois State Attorney’s Office, Cook County Police Department, the Chicago Police Department and the FBI, a heavily armed assault was launched in the early morning hours on Fred Hampton’s residence. With a vicious sense of racist hatred and no regard for human life, the police fired their weapons at will through a wall separating the hallway from the apartment. The two revolutionaries were killed.

In the days that followed, law enforcement officials were quick to reinvent the facts. They claimed that the occupants of the apartment fired guns at police. Their story never held water. Evidence gathered from the forensic investigation and other inquiries pointed exclusively to police savagery in the attack.

 

The shaping of a leader

 

Hampton’s life was brief, but was rich in struggle.

Hampton was born in Chicago on Aug. 30, 1948. His parents originated from Hayneville, La., where sharecropping and racial injustice were common. His great-grandparents had worked on a plantation in that region under the horrors of slavery.

Like millions of African Americans, Hampton’s parents left the South during the Great Migration of the 1930’s to look for a better life and flee the constant threat of racist terror. They settled in Maywood, Ill., a suburb of Chicago where they worked at the Argo Starch Company.

Hampton was attracted to books, and took it upon himself to read the speeches and writings of Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Joan Elbert, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and others. He gained a reputation for his knowledge of Black history and began to sense the need for struggle.

As a student at Proviso East High School, he noticed that most of the students who failed were Black. Hampton began to speak out against the school administration for not providing tutoring and remedial programs for students. He was also critical of the fact that the faculty and administration were all white when one-fourth of the student body was Black.

Hampton challenged the school’s exclusive racist practice of nominating only white girls to compete for “Miss Homecoming Queen.” He organized a protest, walk-out and school boycott. As a result, the following year Black female students were included in this contest

Fred Hampton was respected by white and Black students alike. The year after he graduated from Proviso East, a school administrator requested his help to calm racial tensions among students.

 

Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton.

 

An event that likely affected the young Fred Hampton, much as it affected most of Chicago’s Black community, was the 1955 gruesome lynching of Emmett Till. The 14-year-old Till was visiting family in Mississippi when he was abducted and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Till was the son of family friends and neighbors of the Hamptons.

At Triton Junior College, he studied law as a defense against police brutality aimed at the Black community. He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and became the leader of its youth council at the West suburban branch, galvanizing a membership of 500.

While Hampton was in the NAACP, the Black Panther Party was opening chapters across the country and becoming a prominent force in the Black liberation struggle. Hampton began to absorb and understand the revolutionary content of the Panthers’ political perspective, and joined. He soon demonstrated his leadership abilities and became deputy chairman of the party’s Illinois chapter.

His disposition and skills as a speaker earned Hampton a moral authority. His political achievements included brokering peace with the supposed “street gangs” of Chicago, amongst them the Puerto Rican group the Young Lords. Hampton was instrumental in transforming the Young Lords into a revolutionary political organization.

The white, racist U.S. ruling class was appalled. How dare the descendents of African slaves call themselves socialists and aim to achieve Black people’s right to reparations! Even more daring was the Black Panther Party’s call for the overthrow of capitalism—a demand the ruling class could never tolerate. Their ability to forge unity in struggle was a threat in itself.

All this was happening while resentment for the war in Vietnam was on the rise. The men of privilege and wealth, with a stake in preserving the imperialist system, grew apprehensive the more it became apparent that a mass revolutionary movement was arising.

Hampton valued the need for a multinational revolutionary struggle, and organized the original Rainbow Coalition comprised of the I Wor Kuen of the Asian community, the Brown Berets of the Mexican community, the poor white workers of the Young Patriots, the Young Lords and the Black Panthers. The Black Panther Party set standards for waging struggle. Their enthusiastic projection of socialism allowed many to envision its relevance to African Americans and other oppressed nationalities.

Operation COINTELPRO, an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program, was established in the mid-1950’s to deter the development of any movement deemed a threat to the existing social, economic and political order. It remained secret until 1971, when anti-repression activists broke into an FBI field office in Media, Pa., and confiscated files revealing the hidden operation.

As the Civil Rights movement advanced—galvanizing strength from all sectors of the population, breaking the despicable Jim Crow laws and compelling the U.S. Congress to pass other progressive legislation—the FBI increasingly turned its attention to the Black liberation struggle.

The slanderous editorials against the Panthers in the capitalist-owned mass media, combined with Hoover’s frequent verbal attacks, reflected the wishes of the ruling class who sought the complete destruction of the Black Panther Party and the ideals it embodied. Internal FBI memos show that the government had a special interest in Hampton’s political activities and his associations; Chicago police were encouraged by the FBI to find a way to lock up Hampton.

These circumstances compelled the government to destroy the Black Panther Party.

 

“The greatest threat to national security”

 

The Black Panther Party openly advocated for socialist revolution, and openly supported the Chinese and Cuban revolutions. The Panthers’ breakfast program for children, among other social programs, underlined their commitment to meet the needs of communities that received nothing but oppression and neglect from the government.

Prior to Hampton’s death, police raided the Panthers’ Chicago office on three separate occasions. William O’Neal, Fred Hampton’s bodyguard, was a police informant who was instructed to draw up a floor plan of the targeted apartment weeks earlier. Law enforcement used the information gathered by O’Neal to murder Hampton.

The staunch anti-capitalist stance of these young revolutionaries who declared themselves Marxist-Leninists made them the target of the most ruthless, racist elements in power. On numerous occasions, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover expressed a special disdain for the Black struggle, particularly towards Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Many were not surprised when Hoover declared the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to national security.”

 

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Chairman Fred Hampton was a widely respected orator.

 

Hampton’s murder was part of a pattern of police raids, false imprisonment and executions of Black Panthers. COINTELPRO documents proved that assassination of Black leaders was among its aims. Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party had to be eliminated simply because they had touched upon capitalism’s greatest weakness—the decisiveness and strength that a multi-national movement has in a battle against this system.

The Black Panther Party arose from the struggles of the African American people, historically the most oppressed and exploited group in the United States. They symbolized hope and received the greatest affection. They attributed Black oppression to the capitalist system, and dared to pick up arms against the state. The militancy and defiance of these young revolutionaries deeply impacted the Civil Rights and socialist movements.

Hampton and the Black Panthers believed all would benefit if the banner of the struggle against racism and national oppression was taken up by the white masses as their own. Hampton knew that it was possible to smash the racial barriers created by capitalism to divide and conquer the working class. His confidence was based on the strong belief that this system provides the motivation for all to unite and engage in revolutionary struggle.

 

Long live the memory of Fred Hampton & Mark Clark!  

Long live the memory of the Black Panther Party!

 

 

 

Black Soldiers: A History of Valor & Resistance

 

By Carlito Rovira

 

The U.S. military reflects the racism of the U.S. capitalist system.

African Americans’ role in the military during the Civil War was wholly progressive. Indeed, Black soldiers had a vital stake in smashing the hideous system of slavery.

While President Abraham Lincoln often expressed his indifference to the issue of emancipation, he was forced to recognize the absolute necessity of arming African Americans.

Black soldiers soon became feared by the Southern slavocracy. Their tenacity, skill and valor proved decisive to the North winning the Civil War.

For instance, when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was sent to fight Gen. Robert E. Lee’s military forces in Virginia, he requested Black regiments as his principal troops.

Then there was Harriet Tubman. A former slave, she became an intelligence officer for the Union Army, operating behind enemy lines.

 

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Harriet Tubman

 

Tubman’s courage made possible the capture of Confederate garrisons–and the famous “Underground Railroad” she organized led to the liberation of hundreds of slaves.

All told, 200,000 African Americans served in the Army and Navy during the Civil War. Thirty thousand died in combat.

The Civil War was the last time Black people had a positive stake in a U.S. war’s outcome. After they were betrayed during Reconstruction, the African American people were further undermined and impoverished when the South was overrun by capital investments in manufacturing, lumber and agriculture. Then capital cast its eyes abroad. The Monroe Doctrine had already reserved all of Latin America to be exploited exclusively by U.S. capitalists.

The mysterious explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana on Feb. 18, 1898, served as an excuse for Washington to declare war on Spain. The U.S. invaded the Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, colonizing them anew, this time under U.S. control.

Many Black soldiers played a military role this time, too- -but on a different side.

 

RESISTING THE U.S. ARMED INVASION

 

In 1899 under the leadership of Aguinaldo, the Filipino people furiously fought the new invaders. They inflicted many casualties on the U.S. Army, which claimed to be “helping the people’s quest for freedom.”

The U.S. government retaliated by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Filipino women, men and children.

This genocide was not passively accepted inside the United States, as mainstream historians contend. For example, the Anti-Imperialist League held mass protests in major cities throughout the country.

Significant anti-war sentiment was also expressed widely in Black communities. The Black press as well as other representatives of the African American people vigorously denounced the war. The great historian and African American leader W.E.B. Du Bois played a notable role in this movement.

Most important, Black resistance surfaced inside the U.S. military. Four Black regiments sent to fight in the Philippines established a bond with the Native people there, who also were dark-skinned. These Black troops resented white officers and soldiers describing Filpinos with the same racist slurs applied to African Americans in the United States.

Filipino insurgents appealed to Black soldiers not to fight on the side of imperialism. Posters denouncing racist lynchings in the United States were placed throughout the islands.

This political agitation helped lead to many Black troops deserting the U.S. military.

Some of these African Americans went over to the other side, joining the Filipino guerrilla fighters.

The most notable was David Fagan, formerly of the 24th Infantry Division. The Filipino freedom fighters so respected Fagan that he was made a commander in their army.

David Fagan’s example demonstrates how unity is possible. This is a highly relevant lesson today. Once unity among the working classes and peasant farmers of all nationalities can be established, it lays the basis for overthrowing the tyrannical reign of U.S. imperialism–and preventing another 120 years of terror.

 

 

Long live the fighting spirit of NAT TURNER’S REBELLION!

By Carlito Rovira

 

Among the many events in African American history that bourgeois historians and apologists of slavery tend to downplay, dread or overemphasize the violence inflicted on white slave-owning families is Nat Turner’s Rebellion of August 21, 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia.

Despite what apologists of slavery may say no uprising in history, motivated by the aspirations of the oppressed to emancipate themselves, has ever been pretty. When the subjugated masses realize that struggle is their only path to freedom there are never guarantees that such an endeavour comes about without bloodshed. Especially because well armed tyrants have never given up peacefully their position of privilege, wealth and power.

Exploiters are always ready and willing to use the most horrific measures in order to maintain a people in bondage; beatings, castration, rape and the murder of children were common practices of slave owners. And such is precisely how the slavocracy intended to preserve its power; unimaginable cruelty was the principle method of maintaining control of enslaved African people.

Nat Turner’s leadership in the heroic attempt by slaves to destroy this vile system is something that should inspire our struggles today as we grapple with the historical consequences of capitalism’s most lucrative creation — African chattel slavery.

The blame for the bloody and not-so-pleasant details of this uprising falls strictly on the beneficiaries of centuries-long Black suffering, the capitalist class. Contrary to racist notions and false interpretations of this event Black people have historically been compelled to use force as a means to liberation. Notions that argue the contrary can only serve to justify the continual degradation and persecution of African Americans.

Nat Turner was an enslaved preacher. According to his supposed  and documented “confession” Turner believed that he had received a message from God commanding him to lead the slaves in an uprising against the slave owners.

The desperate circumstances which Black people endured in their horrible experiences makes it a no wonder why the violence that ensued in that uprising was so intense. The audacity of bourgeois historians who judge the extreme methods used by rebellious slaves while minimizing their suffering.

The steadfast determination demonstrated by the slaves in their moment of furor is something that continues to haunt the ruling class and apologists of white privilege, white entitlement and white supremacy.

Although the rebellion was suppressed through bloodshed and torture of all participants, Nat Turner’s efforts, along with the actions led by John Brown at Harpers Ferry in 1859, made widely popular the belief that force was absolutely necessary to destroy the firmly entrenched slave-owning system. Eventually these events paved the way to the Civil War and the overthrow of the Southern slavocracy.

Our embrace and understanding of this event in history should inspire us in the fight against forces that wish to preserve symbols of that ugly period, it’s racist customs, traditions and habits. We do not need to figure out why these same racist forces glorify the vile system of slavery in U.S. history, to justify discrimination and racist violence in the era of modern-day slavery.

Nat Turner merits the noble title of revolutionary fighter in every sense of the word. And when revolution in the United States occurs and grants us the freedom to remove all racist monuments, that should automatically be followed by erecting statues and monuments dedicated to the memory of Nat Turner and other freedom fighters.

 

LONG LIVE THE MEMORY OF NAT TURNER!

LONG LIVE THE BLACK LIBERATION STRUGGLE!

 

 

AFRICAN AMERICAN REPARATIONS & THE STRUGGLE FOR SOCIALISM

By Carlito Rovira

 

 

Among the historical demands of the African American liberation struggle viewed with the utmost contempt by the capitalist class is the demand for reparations. At least 12 million Africans were kidnapped and taken to the Americas in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

 

The demand for reparations is based on the outright theft, degradation and genocide of the African American population during the hundreds of years of slavery in the United States. It is based on the continued impact of this period that lasts to this day in the form of systematic racism and inequality experienced by the Black community throughout the country.

 

It is also based on the continued benefits the U.S. capitalist class still derives from the wealth extracted from Black labor during the period of chattel slavery.

 

Unlike the human bondage of slavery in antiquity, African chattel slavery arose in the 15th century based on the expansion of capitalism. The exploitation of the labor of millions of African slaves allowed the then-infant European capitalist economies to achieve a level of growth never before seen by any social system.

 

Chattel slavery began around 1441 when armed Portuguese “explorers” captured Africans and shipped them to Europe. Once Christopher Columbus made his infamous intrusion into the Western Hemisphere, chattel slavery expanded and lasted well into the second half of the 19th century. This system formed the economic basis of deeply embedded racist ideology among people of European descent in the United States.

 

The initial process of rapid capital accumulation, a requirement for capitalist economic development, was accomplished by the European capitalist classes from the wealth created by enslaved Black labor and the massive theft of gold and other wealth from the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere also victims of genocide.

 

Today, bourgeois historians try to exonerate or distance the capitalist class from complicity in the brutal system of chattel slavery. But slavery, while not based on the “free” wage labor associated with capitalism, was inextricably bound to the development of capitalism. Slavery became an inseparable appendage of rising capitalism until its abolition in the 19th century.

 

The wealth accumulated from slave labor strengthened capitalist industries and commerce. Textile industries, agriculture and shipbuilding prospered as a result of cheaper goods and raw materials obtained by enslaved African labor. The more Black slavery expanded, the more it became an impetus for capitalist economic development not only in the United States, where slavery was strongest, but throughout the world.

 

But what was first a tremendous stimulant for capitalist economic growth ultimately became an economic depressant in the United States. The slave-based plantation economy in the South competed directly with the growing manufacturing economy in the north, based on “free labor.”

 

The competition between these social systems was the basis for the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865. African chattel slavery in the United States was the most lucrative of all.

 

Slavery was abolished after the Civil War. But the impact of that brutal system of exploitation remained, both in the wealth of the U.S. ruling class and the devastation and continued racist oppression of the Black population.

 

The colossal wealth today, amounting to trillions of dollars, is boasted about in stock market reports by the world’s richest corporations like FleetBoston Financial, the railroad firm CSX and the Aetna insurance company. These entities owe their growth to the brutally exploited labor of millions of African people.

 

But like any system of exploitation, slavery also provoked the aspirations of the Black masses for justice and compensation. The demand for reparations is an expression of these aspirations to benefit from the vast wealth that millions of enslaved people produced.

 

The exact formulation of the demand for reparations has varied over the many phases of the Black liberation struggle through the era of slavery itself, the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War, to the present day. But whatever the form in which the demand has manifested, it has always expressed the collective desire of African Americans to be compensated for the criminal exploitation they endured as an enslaved people.

 

`Forty acres and a mule’

 

During the Civil War, the southern slave-owning class held a special hatred for the northern general William Tecumseh Sherman. In 1864 and 1865, Sherman led an army of Black and white Union soldiers marching through South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Along the way, he ordered the total destruction of munitions factories, crops, railroad yards, clothing mills, warehouses and other targets to deny resources to the Confederacy. It was an effective measure of psychological warfare aimed at all who resisted the will of the Union Army.

 

On Jan. 11, 1865, Sherman met with leaders of the Black community in Savannah, Georgia. Most of them were former slaves. The spokesperson of the Black leaders was 67-year-old Garrison Frazier, who was born a slave in North Carolina.

 

Frazier gave voice to the aspirations of the millions of African Americans who had just been released from slavery as a result of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land,” Frazier told the Union general.

 

These African Americans were a principal factor in Sherman’s decision to issue Special Field Order 15 on Jan. 15, 1865. That military order provided 40,000 former slaves with 400,000 acres of land confiscated from the defeated slave owners. It is believed to have been the origin of the demand for “40 acres and a mule.

 

For the first time, a representative of the northern capitalist class had recognized, in a limited way, the rights of former slaves to receive some form of compensation for their centuries of oppression. And while the order was issued for tactical purposes by the northern capitalist government in its campaign against the southern slavocracy, it provided a glimpse of what the oppressed Black nation could achieve in a full-blown social revolution.

 

 

Reversal of Civil War gains

 

 

Hopes for real economic reparations for former slaves were short-lived. The immediate needs of the northern ruling class in crushing their southern competitors were replaced by the overall goal of stifling the aspirations of the oppressed Black masses. Sherman himself went on to unleash U.S. government terror against the Native American people.

 

The overthrown slave owners were enlisted as allies in this project. Former members of the Confederacy engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, setting up the terrorist Ku Klux Klan to roll back the gains of the postwar period of Radical Reconstruction.

 

One of Andrew Johnson’s first acts as president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln was to rescind Special Field Order 15, returning the old land titles to their former owners. Throughout Johnson’s presidency, he vetoed every proposal that granted land to former slaves in the southern states and the western frontier.

 

Radical Republicans made other attempts to pass legislation compensating former slaves, such as providing pensions for the former slaves. These bills met fierce opposition in Congress; none survived.

 

As the United States entered the 20th century as a rising imperialist power, it became ever clearer that the capitalist class’ motives during the Civil War had nothing to do with genuine Black emancipation. Instead of receiving reparations, African Americans were the constant target of disenfranchisement, persecution and racist terror.

 

The struggle to win reparations for African Americans diminished in the earlier part of the 20th century, largely overshadowed by the necessary struggles against lynching and KKK terror. At the height of the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 60s, reparations once again became a central demand of the Black liberation struggle. The Black Panther Party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Nation of Islam and others reintroduced the demand for reparations, often in militant and defiant ways.

 

The complicity of white people in Black oppression can only be rectified when they raise the banner of Black liberation as their very own.

 

During the course of the mass civil rights and Black liberation movements, the U.S. government was forced to allow some progressive legislation. In particular, voting rights, expanded welfare programs and some elements of affirmative action were achieved although all of them are under constant attack.

 

The question of property rights

 

But throughout this period, all sectors of the U.S. ruling class have been hostile to any form of reparations to the African American community. The reason is simple: The demand raises the question of property rights. The bottom-line function of the U.S. government is to preserve capitalist property against all demands from those without property.

 

Economics is the lifeblood that allows for human social development. Destroying, hindering or depriving a people of an economic means of life is an essential step for an oppressor in carrying out the business of subjugation. This is why the capitalist class is hostile toward any reference to reparations.

 

Of course, the capitalist rulers never hesitate to demand reparations in the form of financial compensation when it comes to their own property or interests. For example, they still whine about property that was expropriated by the Cuban people after the 1959 revolution.

 

Ruling-class commentators and pundits try to use bourgeois legality in arguing that African slaves are no longer living and that the claim for reparations should not apply to their descendants. But the wealth created by slave labor became the foundation of many U.S. corporations, and was the basis for the rise of the U.S. capitalist class: the railroad conglomerate CSX, Aetna, JP Morgan Chase, Westpoint Stevens, Union Pacific and Brown University, to name just a few.

 

It is by that bourgeois legality that the wealth created by the slaves and appropriated by the slave owners has continued in the form of corporate wealth and passed down through inheritance laws to families and individuals.

 

Under the legal codes of capitalism, the debt owed to the ancestors of the vast majority of African Americans in the United States today should be recognized by the same inheritance laws by which the rich have benefited. The denial of these rights is another example of the racist disenfranchisement of the Black nation in the United States.

 

What will reparations look like?

 

 

Of course, the concrete expression of how reparations should be granted has generated discussion and debate, even among advocates of reparations. For example, some call for reparations in the form of material incentives such as funds for education programs.

 

At a September 2000 forum sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus and initiated by Rep. John Conyers, Congressperson Tony Hall supported a call for a panel to study the call for reparations. “I would hope that it would consider among many things, investments in human capital for scholarships, for a museum like Congressman [John] Lewis has proposed, for things that would improve the future of slaves’ descendants,” he testified.

 

The Black Panther Party placed reparations at the center of their political perspective. Hall, who is white, articulated a modest message. He had sponsored legislation calling on Congress to issue a formal apology for slavery—something that the U.S. government has never done. The version of reparations he described is one designed to be tolerated by some sector of the capitalist class itself.

 

Activist and author Sam Anderson, representing the Black Radical Congress at the same 2000 panel, projected a more radical vision of the movement for reparations. “[A] comprehensive reparations campaign embraces all of our sites of struggle and areas of concerns,” he said. Anderson laid out a program of fighting for free health care, debt cancellation both for the Black community in the United States as well as African nations and freedom for political prisoners. “A reparations campaign is fundamentally anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist,” he said.

 

 

Reparations and socialism

 

 

Throughout the decades that the demand for reparations has been raised, it is clear that the ruling class is vehemently opposed to any form of economic redress for the descendants of victims of slavery. Every effort to make the most moderate version of reparations is rejected out of hand.

 

Every effort of groups like the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and others deserves the support of all working people of every nationality. Solidarity among the working class means recognizing the right of oppressed nations to real redress for the exploitation of centuries.

 

Reparations for African Americans automatically imply the expropriation of the capitalist class. In short, taking back the wealth, and everything connected to it, that the rulers stole from oppressed and exploited people since their existence first began.

 

Socialists and revolutionaries concern themselves with raising the anti-capitalist essence of the demand for reparations, making it a central theme for the revolution in this country. Given the dynamics of the class struggle in the United States and the extreme reliance on racism by the ruling class, reparations for the oppressed automatically imply the expropriation of the capitalist class.

 

The demand for African American reparations has wide-ranging implications with regard to the history and social structure that prevails in this society.

 

It is a demand that has been taken up around the world by other oppressed nationalities. In fact, reparations for Native American people after the U.S. genocidal campaign, for Mexican people for the conquest of territory, for the Puerto Rican people, for more than a century of U.S. colonialism, for Cuba, Palestine, Haiti, Venezuela and so on. These and more are part and parcel of the U.S. working-class program for socialist revolution.

 

 

REPARATIONS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS & ALL OPPRESSED PEOPLE, NOW!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The militant legacy of Malcolm X

 By Carlito Rovira
On May 19, 1925, an admirable and resolute revolutionary figure was born in Omaha, Nebraska. This figure, who would achieve prominence in the liberation struggle of the African American masses, would go down in history as Malcolm X.

 

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Malcolm X addresses a crowd in Harlem in 1963.

Malcolm was one of eight siblings, children of Louise Norton and Earl Little. Earl was an outspoken Baptist minister and a follower of the Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. His defiant character drew the attention of white racists like the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Legion. These thugs often harassed Malcolm’s family, and one evening their house was set on fire.

 

The 1920s were a decade that bourgeois historians describe as the “roaring twenties.” This is a false and vain glorification, considering that this period of capitalist prosperity meant something totally different for African Americans—who were the victims of widespread white mob lynching and other forms of racist terror.

 

In 1929, Malcolm’s family moved to Lansing, Michigan in pursuit of a safe and better life. But the family was not able to escape the racist violence. Earl Little was murdered, his body mutilated and found lying beneath a streetcar. Malcolm X always maintained that his father was the victim of a racist killing.

 

Malcolm was a studious child with ambitions to become a lawyer. One day, when Malcolm expressed his aspirations to a teacher, he was told that he would never become a lawyer because he was Black. This experience with racism disillusioned Malcolm and discouraged him from continuing school.This tragic event had a heavy impact on Malcolm’s family. Unable to cope with the emotional consequences of her husband’s death and the financial hardships involved in raising children alone, Louise Norton suffered a breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. The state took custody of all the children and placed them in separate foster care environments.

 

By the time Malcolm was a teenager, he made his way to New York City. He worked as a waiter for a period at the famous Small’s Paradise Club in Harlem. But he soon became a middleman for drugs, prostitution and other kinds of illegal activity.

 

In 1946, he and his closest friend Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis moved to Boston. They were both arrested and convicted for burglary shortly after. Malcolm was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The Nation of Islam

 

It was in prison where Malcolm began to become political. He became acquainted with the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm was attracted to the Muslim organization because it addressed the plight of racism and called for the right of African American people to have their own state.

 

Malcolm converted to Islam. Upon his release from prison in 1952, he became a devoted member of the NOI. It was at this point that he chose to repudiate his family name Little and instead use “X.” He considered the use of European names part of the legacy of chattel slavery. Black people were given the names of their slave masters to establish property ownership.

 

Elijah Muhammad was highly impressed with Malcolm X’s oratorical talents and charisma. Malcolm proved to be an important asset to the Muslim organization, and he became a ranking minister. Malcolm’s ability to draw the attention of many with his magnifying persona convinced the leadership to entrust him with the task of establishing NOI mosques in other U.S. cities.

 

Many viewed his captivating personality and the power of his imagery as surpassing the persuasiveness of Elijah Muhammad. People were drawn to rallies precisely to hear Malcolm X speak. His talents contributed to the astounding membership increase in the Nation of Islam from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963, according to the Malcolm X Estate.

 

‘No man should have so much power’

 

In one famous incident in 1957, before Malcolm X left the NOI, a member of the NOI was beaten by the police in Harlem and did not receive medical attention. Malcolm X demonstrated the power of a disciplined people’s campaign by marching members of the NOI to the police precinct. They stood in formation in front of the police station.

 

Malcolm insisted that the Black prisoner had a right to medical attention. Fearing a possible rebellion by the growing number of community residents who were emboldened by the Malcolm X’s leadership, the police brass agreed to obtain medical attention for the detainee. Thousands of Harlem residents followed the ambulance from the precinct to Harlem Hospital.

 

The police then ordered that the Muslim formation disperse. Malcolm very calmly but firmly explained to the police commander in charge that the crowd standing at attention did not recognize his authority and was not going to listen to his orders.

 

At that point, after ensuring that the beaten man was being treated, Malcolm gave a hand signal. With military discipline, the Muslims about-faced and marched away. The police commander was overheard saying to his subordinates, “no man should have that much power.”

 

In 1963, following the assassination of President John Kennedy, Elijah Muhammad instructed his followers to refrain from making public statements. He was concerned that any inflammatory statements could be used by the racist U.S. government to repress the NOI. But Malcolm could not resist demonstrating his disposition towards the rulers.

 

His blunt assessment—“the chickens have come home to roost”—was a widespread sentiment in the most oppressed communities, who had been shut out of the gains of the white capitalist United States. Kennedy was killed by the same violent methods that the power structure perpetrates on the conquered and oppressed.

 

But it was a shock to wide layers of the white population, unaccustomed to such a calm and critical assessment of U.S. society. The statement was used by a hysterical media to whip up a fear campaign against Malcolm and the Nation.

 

Diverging politics

 

The statement infuriated the NOI leadership. Elijah Muhammad forbade Malcolm X from speaking publicly for 90 days.

Along with these organizational issues, political differences between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad became more difficult to reconcile.

 

Elijah Muhammad’s program was premised on the conservative notion of appeasement with the status quo. He sought to win legitimacy—but not on the basis of participating and giving leadership to the developing rebellious upsurge of the 1960s. He sought to promote a concept of Black capitalism, where the African American community would use the wealth it generated to enrich a Black elite that could ultimately compete with U.S. racist capitalism on its own terms—but would not compete with it until the elite was powerful enough.

 

Malcolm X, on the other hand, was attracted to the militancy of the civil rights movement. His approach was characterized by no compromise with the oppressors. His understanding of the depths of racism in the United States led him to conclude that the present system was inherently hostile to the interests of the African American people. Struggle was necessary to face the challenge. On every issue connected to the plight of the Black masses, he never hesitated to be critical in assessing the cruelty of the existing power structure.

 

In March 1964, after many bitter internal battles, Malcolm X severed his relationship with the NOI. He set up the Muslim Mosque, Inc. The same year, Malcolm traveled on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Coming in contact with Muslims of different races, including whites, was an experience that qualitatively changed his outlook towards race relations and the liberation struggle in the United States. For the first time, Malcolm saw a potential for a revolutionary struggle on the basis of a united front in this country. Upon his return, he again changed his name, to El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

 

Government inflames split

 

Malcolm X became the target of a number of assassination attempts, including the Feb. 14, 1965 firebombing of his home where he lived with his family, Betty Shabazz and their four daughters. When Malcolm publicly disclosed the reasoning for his departure from the NOI, the relationship with his former colleagues grew dangerously antagonistic.

 

Malcolm’s tremendous leadership and ability to project hope for the oppressed Black masses was undoubtedly under close watch by police and federal intelligence agencies. This scrutiny would have been in full swing after he met with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Sept. 19, 1960, at the Hotel Theresa, in Harlem.

 

Malcolm suspected that the FBI and police kept him under very close watch, a suspicion that was proven correct in later years. He also suspected that the government was inflaming differences between the NOI and his organization. Malcolm was convinced that a scenario was being created that would lead to an attempt on his life.

 

On Feb. 21, 1965, in New York City’s Audubon Ballroom, three armed men approached Malcolm as he spoke on stage. The assassins repeatedly fired their weapons at close range, taking the life of the beloved and respected African American leader.

 

An example of militancy

0220malcolm01.jpg
Malcolm meets Fidel Castro in the Hotel Theresa in 1961.
Photo: Gamma Presse

 

 

There is no telling how Malcolm’s politics and tactics would have developed if he had not been assassinated. But one thing is certain: Malcolm X was a revolutionary. In the entire stretch of his political development, he demonstrated a quality of fierce hatred toward the status quo of racism and oppression. It was this trait that made him a militant and exemplary leader.

 

His impact was felt long after his death. Most notable, the Black Panther Party’s political line was heavily influenced by Malcolm’s defiant and revolutionary Black nationalism, as well as by Marxism-Leninism.

 

The struggle that ensued within the Nation of Islam between Malcolm X and his followers, on the one hand, and Elijah Muhammad and more bourgeois conservative elements, on the other, was essentially a struggle between forces who sought a revolutionary direction and those who desired to end oppression by mimicking the oppressors. This phenomenon has always existed in the movements of socially oppressed sectors.

 

Malcolm died when he was 39 years old. Although he lived a short life, he had a powerful impact on the African American and other revolutionary movements in the United States.

 

In particular, communists of all nationalities and others who strive to build a unified, revolutionary struggle learned from his powerful example of defiance against the grim reality of racism and alienation. They learned the need to build a unity based on respect for the revolutionary potential of the African American masses.

 

 

Long live the revolutionary memory of Malcolm X!

A SALUTE TO JOHN BROWN ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH

 

By Carlito Rovira

 

On May 9, 1800 one of the greatest representatives of oppressed and exploited people was born in Torrington, Connecticut. His name was John Brown.

 

The exemplary acts of courage as well as the humanity of John Brown has secured him an eternal place of honor in the archives of the class struggle in this country. He was instrumental in the political defeat of slavery by setting the stage that embolden many to resort to armed conflict. It was precisely his willingness to use force that defined the direction history would take.

 

Despite the fact that John Brown did not perceive himself as a revolutionary, but was instead according to him “doing the work of God,” his stance against the widely accepted, centuries-long slave system was in every objective sense  revolutionary.

 

His militant disposition towards the practices of this system differed tremendously from other abolitionists who tended to be non-threatening with their passive approach towards the slave owning class.

 

John Brown understood quite well that because slavery was upheld with violent force it was necessary to overthrow it with the use of violent force. He led a number of attacks like the Battle of Black Jack and the Battle of Osawatomie, in which slave owners and supporters of that vile system received the justice they deserved by death.

 

On October 16, 1859 John Brown and a group of men that included two of his sons launched a raid at the Harpers Ferry armory. The plan was to capture the stockpile of weapons there and distribute them to African American slaves in order to engage in battle for liberation.

 

Despite the failed attempt at Harpers Ferry and John Brown’s eventual execution by hanging the effort ultimately proved to be the beginning of the end for chattel slavery in the United States. This daring act was quite similar to Cuba’s 1953 Attack on the Moncada Barracks. Although it was a failed attempt with many revolutionaries losing their lives through torture the event is what sparked the Cuban Revolution.

 

To this day John Brown’s persona continues to be the target of vilification and ridicule by bourgeois historians. The usual depiction is that he was a “madman.” The distortions of the facts of John Brown’s life are clearly intended to discredit and make him seem irrelevant to the political reality of today. The rulers fear mass rebellion and any references in the past that may contain lessons for the struggle against capitalist oppression.

 

It makes sense why those with power and wealth today would continue to dread the memory of John Brown just as much as the oppressors dread the memory of Che Guevara, Lolita Lebron, Malcolm X or V.I. Lenin.

 

The lessons of John Brown’s experience are many that point to the added obligation that people of white origin have, especially those who consider themselves revolutionaries or socialists.

 

John Brown was never critical nor was he defensive about the emancipation aspirations and self-identity of Black people. These sentiments which later on developed to become the ideological pillars of Black nationalism were deeply rooted in the horrific experiences of slavery. By all historical accounts, John Brown did his part to defend and enhance these sentiments.

 

Unlike many in predominantly white entities today who shamefully associate their existence with socialism and revolution, tend to equate the nationalism of the oppressed with the nationalism of the oppressor.

 

White privilege  and white entitlement also existed during John Brown’s lifetime in the form of slavery. Although historical circumstances have changed since the moral duty of white progressives to fight white supremacy has not.

 

Claiming to be anti-racist in words only is not enough. To be anti-racist means engaging in an uncompromising struggle against police terror and the encroachment of Black and Latino communities by a social prop of privileged white “yuppies” or “hipsters” who are objectively partaking in a campaign of racist gentrification.

 

Because of historical circumstances it should never be assumed that equilibrium exist in the social obligation of whites and non-whites. For us to take the first steps against racism in the U.S. and begin the process for multi-racial /multi-national unity, the white  populace must eventually raise the anti-racist banner and the liberation struggles of oppressed people as their very own.

 

The disposition and standards required for white progressives in the struggle for fundamental social change do not have to be re-created, that was well established long ago by John Brown.

 

 

LONG LIVE THE MEMORY OF JOHN BROWN!

 

(Above is my portrait rendition of John Brown. Dimensions: 24″ X 30″, acrylic on canvas.)