Martin Luther King And The Lessons of the Civil Rights Movement
For over 50 years, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been depicted as a pacifist, who worked with or in concert with the political establishment, especially the Democratic Party leadership, to bring about racial equality. This is a nice story, but is just not true. Any movement for change that challenges the status quo and demands social and economic justice, it becomes dangerous in the eyes of the ruling class, especially if it finds its leaders through the movement, who give it direction and inspiration and objectify
its goals and demands. The reaction from the ruling class to such popular movements is always well thought out and planned in advance, deliberate, comprehensive and fierce. It uses its police, courts, media and political leadership in both parties to try to discredit the movement and its leaders and put an end to it before it becomes uncontrollable. They spy on and try to dig or manufacture dirt on the personal lives of its leaders, they unleash the police to harass, beat and arrest the protesters and the TV personalities and reporters and newspaper writers spew lies about it and its leaders. Such was the case with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and the attitudes and actions of the agents and servants of the ruling class, from the president to the FBI and from the corporate media to the police towards Dr. King, Malcolm X and others. This type of reaction from the political establishment is natural when you consider whom they serve and what’s at stake for those super wealthy families who control the policies and politics of the nation, who also try to do the same with much of the world.
And, it hasn’t been any different in the years since that ground shaking movement, which had the potential, if not the power in the immediate, to change things in the most fundamental ways in this country, which is built on exploitation, racism, plunder and genocide. Every movement ever since, whether it be against the war in Vietnam in early 1970’s or for nuclear disarmament in 1980’s or against capitalist “globalization” and imperialist institutions like the IMF and World Bank in the 90’s, or the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, they planted police agents within the movement to spy on the activists; they beat and arrested them and held them on false charges; and the media either ignored them or showed a few counter demonstrators to try to “balance” the “two sides” or misrepresented them and their movement. All these organs and institutions, which are in the service of the ruling billionaires and corporate bosses, from the presidency to the police and spy agencies and courts to the media, work together, in concert, to prevent fundamental change.
Today, too, as the protests against police brutality and murders of unarmed Blacks continue in cities from Ferguson to New York and Los Angeles, the organs and institutions of the Empire have been employing the same old as well as newer methods: intimidating the protesters using aggressive police tactics, closing down entire sections of a city with heavily armed police and snipers riding on tanks and armored personnel carriers and stationed at rooftops; beating, harassing and arresting the demonstrators at will and with no cause; planting spies among them and within their organizations and meetings; monitoring their social media and trying to discredit them in the corporate media. After the murder of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, New York Times, CNN and others put the dead 18 year old on trial, by bringing up his past encounters with “the law”, instead of condemning his racist killer. The murder of two NYPD police officers who were killed by a deranged individual, was used in the media to push back against and discredit the protests. Even Al Sharpton who from time to time takes a break from praising President Obama in his MSNBC show to condemn police killings of Black men, felt obligated to praise the two murdered officers as “brave men who put their lives in danger everyday to protect and serve their community”! It was revealed and reported recently that the police has had agents pretending to be protesters to provoke police attack on peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson. It was also revealed after the protests of the Occupy movement that even the CIA was involved in spying on the protesters and there was consultation with the Department of Justice and even the Obama White House on how and when to crack down on protesters.
The point is: the government with all its organs from the White House and Congress to the courts and the police is owned and controlled by the corporations and their super wealthy owners and are tasked with maintaining the status quo for the wealthy. So, when a movement for change is developed, they will naturally try to stop it by all means necessary. That’s what they tried to do with the Civil Rights movement and succeeded in stopping it from going any further by helping to bring about King’s assassination. As Zaid Jilani, writing for AlterNet points out, between the years 1963 and 1965, the FBI bugged at least 14 hotel rooms Dr. King stayed in, looking for “information concerning King’s personal activities” in an attempt to “discredit him.” The FBI sent him a letter threatening to expose extramarital affairs and suggested he commit suicide. “King, there is only one thing left for you to do”, the letter said. “You know what it is…You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation”. President Kennedy complained that King might be a Marxist. Robert Kennedy as the acting Attorney General and on JFK’s orders, in 1963, authorized wiretaps of King’s personal residence. Both JFK’s and LBJ’s support for the Civil Rights movement was mixed at best; they didn’t want to alienate racist whites of the South whose votes the Democratic Party was counting on, but, more importantly, they were afraid the movement for racial inequality might go further and challenge the whole foundations of the capitalist system that was creating poverty among Blacks and Whites, alike. In fact, it was exactly that which Dr. King put his finger on in his later days before being assassinated. He was trying to connect racial injustice with poverty and unite the poor.
While they did everything to try and discredit him when he was alive, in the years following his assassination, they have been praising him. Why? Not because shills like Al Sharpton of the media or the political establishment have had a change of heart about him, but because they know they can’t erase his legacy in the minds of the people. So, instead, they try to revise him and his legacy: his beliefs, his values and what he stood for. They picked the “peaceful” from “peaceful protests”, which he did advocate, and stripped away the rest, rendering him a non-radical pacifist, who only believed in equal rights for Blacks, which he supposedly achieved through peaceful protests and within the legal framework. All of that is pure lie and fabrication. Aside from some exceptions and minor incidents, protests do start as peaceful, but soon look like war zones when the police are sent to crush them, as they always do. And when that happens, the violence is blamed on the protesters, who are then urged by elected officials to break up and go home. But Dr. King was no elected official, so he didn’t owe the corporate lobbyists anything for a lucrative position in government. Nor was he a highly paid newscaster on TV, expected to discredit the protesters. He was a radical in the true sense of the word, who wanted real and fundamental change, which he knew would not come from elected officials, but from the bottom – from a militant grassroots movement of millions protesting in the streets. He was against imperialist wars, which now are a regular event and against capitalist exploitation, which produces and exacerbates poverty. But, if you haven’t before, listen to frauds like Al Sharpton and President Obama mentioning him again next month on the occasion of his birthday to see how they speak of him and what they stress and what they hide about him.
The Civil Rights movement has never truly been welcomed by the ruling class, but, it has been analyzed thoroughly and important lessons have been learned as to how not to let it happen again. After those crucial and historic days, the ruling class has taken some major steps in order to ensure it doesn’t happen again because next time, it could be “disastrous” for the super wealthy and could bring down their empire, altogether. To their credit, they have been hard at work to prevent its reoccurance. They have put in jail a huge number of the Black youth; they have all but destroyed workers’ unions; they have created a massive surveillance system to keep tabs on every activist, including on social media and on every detail of their personal lives in case they need to discredit them; they have militarized the police, giving them heavy weaponry, military training and increased liberties, while curtailing those of the population; using the “war on terror” pretext, they have passed laws, such as the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which prepare the society for an eventual police state in anticipation and preparation for mass uprisings; and whistle blowers working for the government have been punished harshly to set an example for others.
All these efforts, on legal, tactical and ideological levels, belie a fundamental weakness, which characterizes a system based on exploitation of the masses to enrich a few already obscenely wealthy, a system which, by necessity and by nature, produces poverty and widens the wealth gap between the class of the few and that of the many. And herein lies its vulnerability which explains the fearfulness of the ruling class and its obsession for controlling the masses. The accumulation of the wealth at the top and persisting hunger and poverty at the bottom is as natural and expected byproduct of the capitalist economic system as is the anxiety of the rulers about popular movements and their consequent and persistent push towards a bonafide police state.
We too must learn our lessons and arm ourselves with the knowledge and understanding needed for our eventual face off with the most heavily armed ruling class in human history, armed not just with tanks and attack helicopter and drones and violent police and sophisticated espionage apparatus, but with the most science and technology has to offer, from the psychology of torture to the sociology of crowd control. We have a long and hard way in front of us. The starting line can be anywhere from Ferguson to New York or from Detroit to Oakland. We won’t seek violence, but violence will rain down upon us. I don’t know when, but I do know the reckoning will come, and when it does, it’ll bring a new dawn for humanity, which will look back and wonder: what took them so long.