Originally published anonymously (the norm within the Bordigist tradition) in 'Il Programma Comunista' (September 10th 1965), the paper of the former International Communist Party, written by the Left Communist Bruno Maffi (b.1909 – d.2003). Republished in 'Proletarian' #12, Autumn/Winter 2015. The article was prompted by the 1965 Watts riots.
And after it all, once it got past the outburst of the «black revolt» in California, international conformism «buried» the event under a thick cloak of silence; as the «enlightened» bourgeois still anxiously sought to discover the «mysterious» causes that had hampered the operation of the «regular and peaceful» democratic mechanism, any observer on either side of the Atlantic could be consoled by recalling that after all, the explosions of collective violence by «colored people» are nothing new in America and, for example, that a serious explosion occurred in Detroit in 1943, without any serious consequences.
But something profoundly new happened deep in this burning episode of an anger, not vaguely popular but proletarian in nature, something to be followed not with a cold objectivity but with passion and hope. And it is this that makes us say: the black revolt was crushed; long live the black revolt!
The novelty – for the history of the struggles for emancipation of black proletarians and sub-proletarians, and not for the history of class struggles in general – is the almost perfect coincidence between the pompous rhetoric of the presidential promulgation of political and civic rights, and the eruption of an anonymous, subversive, collective and «uncivil» fury on the part of the «beneficiaries» of the «magnanimous» gesture; between the umpteenth attempt to entice the tortured slave with a miserable carrot that costs nothing, and the instinctive and immediate refusal of this slave to remain blindfolded, bent and cowering.
Harshly, instructed by no one – not by their leaders more gandhian than Gandhi; nor by a «communism» in the mode of the USSR, which, as L’Unità1 hurried to say, rejects and condemns violence – but educated by the hard lessons of the facts of social life, Blacks in California have shouted out to the world, without having the theoretical consciousness, without needing to express it in a well-developed language, but by claiming it in the thick of the action, the simple and terrible truth that legal and political equality is nothing as long as there is economic inequality; and that it is possible to end it, not by laws, decrees, sermons or homilies, but only by overthrowing by force the foundations of a society divided into classes. It is this sudden tearing away of the veil of legal fictions and democratic hypocrisy, which has baffled and could only confuse the bourgeois; it is this which has focused the enthusiasm of real Marxists; and it is this which needs to capture the imaginations of the proletarians asleep in the artificial cocoons of the metropolises of a capitalism historically born under a white skin.
* * *
When the American North, already on the rails to full capitalism, launched a crusade for the abolition of slavery prevailing in the South, it did not do so for humanitarian reasons, or out of respect for the eternal principles of 1789, but because it was necessary to uproot a pre-patriarchal capitalist economy and to «liberate» the work force so that it would become a huge resource for the greedy capitalist monster. Thus, before the Civil War, the North encouraged the flight of slaves from the Southern plantations, it was enticed by a workforce which would be for sale dirt cheap in the labor market and in addition to this direct benefit would have enabled it to reduce the pay of the workforce already employed, or at least not to let it increase. During and after the war the process was rapidly accelerated, in becoming generalized.
It was an historically necessary transition to overcome the limits of an ultra-backward economy; and Marxism saluted this, but not because it did not know that «liberated» in the South, black manpower would find in the North a mechanism of exploitation already in place, and even more ferocious in certain aspects. In the words of Capital, the «good negro» would be free to deliver his skin to the labor market for it to be tanned: freed from the chains of Southern slavery, but also the protective shield of an economy and a society based on personal and human relationships, instead of impersonal and inhuman relations; free, that is to say alone, naked and unarmed.
And actually the slave who escaped to the North would come to realize that no less than before he was in an inferior position; because he was paid less; because he was deprived of professional qualifications; because he was isolated in new ghettos as a soldier of an industrial reserve army and as a potential threat of disintegration of the connective tissue of private ownership; because discriminated against and subjected to segregation as one who does not feel a human being but a beast of burden, and as such to sell himself to the first bidder without demanding more nor better.
Today, a century after his alleged «emancipation», he is granted the «plenitude» of civil rights by the same act whereas his average income is dramatically lower than that of his white fellow citizen: his wages are half of his brother with white skin, the pay of his companion is one third of the companion of the latter; in the very act in which the golden metropoles of businesses confined him in appalling ghettos of misery, disease, insecurity, insulating him behind invisible walls of prejudices, customs and police regulations; in the very act in which unemployment which bourgeois hypocrisy calls «technological» (that is to say it is an «inevitability» of the price to advance on the path of progress, not the fault of present society), has its most numerous victims among his brothers in race, because they are the ranks of ordinary workers or sub-proletarians consigned to the most arduous and the most lowly jobs; in the very act where he is the equal on the battlefield to his white brothers to be turned into cannon fodder, it is not at all the same coming up against the policeman, the judge, the tax officer, the owner of the factory, the union honcho, the owner of his slum dwelling.
And it is also undeniable – and incomprehensible for the pedant – that his revolt broke out in California where the average salary of Blacks is higher than in the east; but it is precisely in this region of capitalist boom and so-called «well-being» that the disparity of incomes is the greatest; This is where the ghetto, already long enclosed along the Atlantic coast, becomes quickly enclosed in the presence of the obscene display of luxury, waste, of the good life of the ruling class – which is white!
It is against this hypocrisy of egalitarianism jesuitically enshrined in law, but denied in the reality of a society with deeply dug class trenches, that black anger exploded; in the same fashion that anger explodes among white proletarians, drawn into and heaped up in the new industrial centers of advanced capitalism, crowded into shantytowns, in the monotonous slums, in the hovels of the very Christian bourgeois society where they are «free» to sell their labor power so as … not to starve; in the same fashion always the holy fury of the dominated classes explodes and, as if that were not enough, scorned and maligned as well!
« ‘Premeditated Revolt’ against the rule of law, the rights of our neighbors and the maintenance of order!» exclaimed Mc Intyre, the Cardinal of our Holy Mother the Church, as if the new slave-without ankle-chains had a motive to respect a law that the face pressed to the ground on bended knees maintains; or that this «neighbor» of whites, has never found himself to have «rights» or that he could see in this society based on the triple lie of liberty, equality, fraternity, something other than disorder raised to the level of a principle.
«Rights are not conquered by violence» shouted Johnson.2 Lie. Blacks remember, if only by having heard that Whites had to wage a long war to conquer the rights denied them by the English metropole; they know that Blacks and Whites, temporarily united, had to carry out an even longer war to obtain even the appearance of an «emancipation» still impalpable and remote; they see and feel every day chauvinist rhetoric exalting the extermination of the Red Indians, the march of the «founding fathers» to new lands and «rights» and the brutal violence of the western pioneers, «exalted» to civilization by the Bible and Alcohol. What is all this if not violence?
Inchoately, blacks have understood that there is no problem in American history, like that of every country, that has not been resolved by force; there is no right which is not the result of clashes, sometimes bloody, always violent, between the forces of the past and of the future.
One hundred years of peaceful waiting for magnanimous concessions from whites have brought them very little, if we except the little which the occasional angry outburst could wrest from the avaricious and cowardly boss’s hand. And how did Governor Brown3 respond, defender of the rights that the whites felt threatened by the «revolt», if not by the democratic violence of machine guns, truncheons, armored cars and a state of siege?
And so what is this, if not the experience of oppressed classes under every sky, whatever the color of their skin and their «racial» origin? The Black, no matter if he is a pure proletarian or sub-proletarian, who shouted in Los Angeles: «Our war is here, not in Vietnam», has expressed an idea no different than the men who «launched an assault on the heavens» during the Paris Commune and that of Petrograd gravediggers of the myths of order, the national interest, the civilizing wars, and finally herald a human civilization.
* * *
Our bourgeois cannot console themselves by thinking: these are distant episodes that do not concern us, at home there is no racial question. Race is now, in an ever more evident manner, a social issue.
The fact that the ragged unemployed and semi-unemployed in our South no longer find the safety valve of emigration; the fact that they cannot travel beyond the sacred frontiers of the motherland to be skinned-alive (and get slaughtered in disasters due not to fate, unexpected vagaries of the atmosphere or, who knows, the evil eye, but the thirst for profit of Capital, its frantic search for savings on the costs of materials, means of transport, safety devices, and perhaps for future gains in the reconstruction following disasters which are inevitable and anything but unpredictable even when they are hypocritically deplored); the fact that the slums of our industrial cities and our moral capitals(!!) are swarming, and will be even more than is the case today, with outcasts without work, without bread, without-reserves, and you will have an Italian «racism» Italian, already visible today in the recriminations of the inhabitants of Northern Italy against the «primitive» and «uncultured» Southerners.
This is the social structure in which we are called upon to live today that gives rise such infamies; it is under its ruins that they will disappear.
This is what warns and reminds those who, drugged by the democratic and reformist opium, and without memory, doze in the illusory dream of well-being, the «black revolt» in California – not distant nor exotic, but present in our midst; immature and defeated, but a harbinger of victory!
- 1. L’Unità was the daily newspaper of the Italian Communist Party.
- 2. Democrat Lyndon Johnson was the president of the United State (he had gained this position after the Kennedy assassination, when he was the Vice President). His «Great Society» program included recognition of «civil rights» for blacks, the «war against poverty», the institution of social measures in the health sector such as Medicare and Medicaid for the poor, etc. It was under his mandates that US involvement in the Vietnam War, began under Kennedy, really intensified.
- 3. Pat Brown, Democratic governor of California from 1958 to 1966 (when he was defeated by Ronald Reagan) is the father of the current governor Jerry Brown, who had been governor of California from 1975 to 1983.