What gives Black youth such courage?

Larry HolmesThe following talk was given by First Secretary Larry Holmes at the Workers World Party national conference Nov. 7-8 in New York City.

Today is the 98th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. I hope in two years when it is the century anniversary, we can do something important and fill a big hall on the 100th anniversary.

The first thing I want to say is, Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, long live these wonderful revolutionaries. To have a hall named in your honor is a very small thing. There should be statues. There should be parks. There should be schools. There should be a holiday. But at least to have a hall where the community can come and meet. Where revolutionaries and radicals like us can come and meet, especially those who are sworn to defend oppressed people and who understand the national question and do not put it second, third or 10th, but put it first. It helps this community so I’m glad we’re using this venue for this very wonderful conference.

Are the Boston school bus drivers here? Not yet. That’s gonna be an event sisters and brothers. They are still on the bus.

I think a number of speakers who come up here will dedicate their presentation to a number of things, but I’d like to try this: to dedicate it to the Black Lives Matter uprising. I think that Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz would approve of that. Certainly many of those, typically the young people, Black and some white, who have come into this tremendous struggle that has shut down bridges and highways from coast to coast to stop the murder of Black people — either they knew about Malcolm before, or they certainly know about him now.

One of the things that the People’s Power Assembly here in New York and elsewhere has been doing is working hard to solidify ourselves and help out in any way, form or fashion this Black Lives Matter uprising and their rally call, “Shut them down!” To get the police’s attention, the government’s attention, the capitalist’s attention, you can’t just have a picket line. Sometimes you just gotta shut it down. Brave, brave activists.

I don’t know if you heard about this, but last week Hillary Clinton went to Atlanta. It was an important trip. She went there to shore up her Black support. They held an event for her in a big university, Clark Atlanta University, and it was filled with Black people, a lot of civil rights leaders. The house was filled with leaders, mostly from the past.

She was coming to shore it up. That’s what the Democratic Party politicians do. You see them when they want your vote, but when the police are beating you up and shooting you or your child, you don’t see them. You don’t get your phone call returned.

While surrounded by all these Black people, including John Lewis and maybe even Jesse Jackson and mayors like Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta, a group called “Shut It Down Atlanta” — we have a “Shut It Down New York” — about 20 Black youth, got up and started chanting, “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”

Now to come into an event like that, you have got to have some courage. An event like that with all those leaders. It was just incredible. I was so moved and impressed by it. That’s the kind of spirit that is revolutionary, that is determined. We’re not going to do it just when it’s easy or obvious, like calling Trump a racist and calling NBC racist for allowing him to be on “Saturday Night Live” tonight — which is a slap not only in the face of Latinos and Latinas, but every progressive person, every anti-racist person on the face of this earth. It is an insult.

It goes to show that in the final analysis it’s all about the dollars. What a sick, bizarre Republican campaign that you have Trump, and that other guy who sounds like he’s from the 13th century, leading the pack. It is a sign of the decay of imperialism. It needs to be analyzed. But I think it is a sign that things are falling apart. Things are not very good.

What I liked about Shut It Down Atlanta disrupting Hillary Clinton is that it brought a dimension to the Black Lives Matter uprising that I think has always been there, but it sharpened it. I’m talking about class struggle. There was definitely some class struggle going on in that university ballroom. I don’t know who realized it. I’m not even sure the people who disrupted it knew it. But there was definitely some class struggle.

What kind of passion motivates people to do what these people did in Atlanta? And what others have done? They wouldn’t even cover it anymore. There have been hundreds, thousands of arrests, many of them right here in New York. The police have gotten more brutal after they decided to crack down. No more of this hands-off policy. Same thing in Baltimore.

What has given these young people so much passion, so much determination. In some ways we haven’t seen this since Act Up — for those of you who were old enough to remember — when they would just be in your face. It’s a similar thing, comrades and friends, sisters and brothers, they are trying to stop genocide.

It’s not just a phase. It’s not just a temporary uprising — something happens, a brutal murder of a Black child and we’re upset, we rebel and then we go back to doing what we usually do, business as usual. This is not that. It will have its ups and downs, its highs and lows, but things will never be the same.

There is a material basis for Black Lives Matter in the changes of the economy, in the globalized high-tech economy. What are we talking about? These murders are on the increase and it’s open season on Black and Brown people because under globalized capitalism the bourgeoisie has found out that they don’t need as much Black cheap labor. There’s too much of it. There’s an excess of Black cheap labor. When the capitalists conclude that, that means they’re going to do anything to you. You are a problem for them.

That’s the reason why they let the Black community in Baltimore suffer and build up the Inner Harbor. That’s the reason for gentrification. That’s the reason why schools close or are privatized. That’s the reason why they are killing more of us. There are economic reasons behind behind this, which can be analyzed on a Marxist basis. It should be studied. Someone should write a pamphlet or a book about it.

I have read some good stuff about it. It is behind gentrification. It is behind the expansion of the prison-industrial complex. Kill them, put them in jail, force them out. It is social and physical genocide based on changes in capitalism.

I underscore changes, because in many ways what my few minutes of being up here is about is examining changes. Change is the law of life.  How many of you have heard about dialectical materialism? Everything changes. Change is inevitable. Because change is inevitable, it is one of the reasons why one of the themes of this conference is putting socialist revolution back on the table.

Why put it back? Curious formulation. Comrades and friends, it’s been taken off. This is a sweeping generalization. I’m sure there are many in this country and around the world who believe themselves to be revolutionary. Some of them are in organizations. Some of them are looking for organizations — I hope they look this way. But in a general way, the working class movement and its leaders over the past hundred years — almost since the time of the Russian Revolution — have slowly but surely to a large extent taken socialist revolution off the table.

How did this happen? Some of the reasons were setbacks. One of the early setbacks was when the Russian Revolution didn’t expand into Europe and Russia was left alone. That was a downer.

Another setback was during the 1930s when the working class across the world was up in arms, so to speak. It seemed that they were right on the precipice of revolution. But it didn’t happen. Fascism and war won out, both here and in Europe and elsewhere. That was a setback. The collapse of the Soviet Union, another setback.

What these setbacks do to many is make them conclude that a socialist revolution is nice, but it’s not going to happen in my lifetime and I don’t think it can happen in my great-grandchildrens’ lifetime. They take it off the table. They come up with a more limited objective, an objective that all of us support.

The bus drivers are here!

The bus drivers are an exception. That is why they been under vicious attack for two years. When they tried to fire the leaders of this tremendous union, what did they do? They did not take revolution off the table.  Their stinking, rotten, buzzard company knows that, which is why they’re trying to get revolution out of that union. They’re going to fail. They’re not going to win. We’re going to win.

There is nothing wrong — I don’t want people to get the wrong impression — there is nothing wrong with fighting for reforms: fighting for a union, a good contract, decent wages, health insurance, Social Security, free public schools — all the things they’re trying to take back. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. We call that the limited program. But you can’t just have the limited program and take off the table the maximum program, which is socialist revolution.

Somewhere along the line many began to think that capitalism was so strong and seemed to be winning crucial battles that surely it must mean it’ll be around forever. Therefore, the best thing we can do is fight for reforms and sort of accommodate ourselves to reality, the permanence of  capitalism. This is a problem in our movement. I hope that our party, as it has been doing for a long time but on a more conscious and aggressive level, fights against this tendency in the movement. We cannot go anywhere with just a limited program. We cannot do what we need to do with just a limited program.

Everything changes. Things do not stay the same. It seems and feels like everything stays the same, but that’s an illusion. Everything is changing. This is the law of dialectical materialism.

We’ve said it over and over and over, high technology and globalization — which are really one and the same — have rendered the capitalist economy in a state of permanent overproduction. Let me say that again: permanent overproduction. That doesn’t necessarily account for every event or phenomenon in the capitalist economy. As an overriding reality, it’s the overproduction. Can they fix it? No. They will never be able to fix it. This is what we mean when we say capitalism is at a dead end.

We’ve got to teach more revolutionaries that even while they’re fighting on a local basis, they have got to have a larger perspective, even if it’s way off on the horizon or even not on the horizon yet. That is a new society, a revolutionary orientation, a revolutionary perspective. We’ve got to bring that back, comrades, sisters and brothers. It is desperately needed.  

Part of doing that is convincing people that things change. They don’t stay the same. Most of us tend to be preoccupied with what we are fighting on a local basis. It’s all-consuming.  We wish there were more of us. We have to continue doing that in every city, everywhere. Activists and revolutionaries are doing the same thing in every part of the planet.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that there are things that are happening that may not be clear to you, but are sort of up there a little bit. You have to look a little further. There are things that are happening that will affect what you are doing, either now, or sooner or later; that is, the capitalist economy on a worldwide basis is falling apart.

Actually, if it weren’t for the Federal Reserve and other central banks across the world pumping trillions of dollars into the financial markets, the world would be in a depression.  Now, one needs to make a qualification there. They are not pumping the money into what people need, like decent-paying jobs and free health care and affordable housing and daycare.  They’re pumping it into the market, so that creates a buffer for the financial class, for that oligarchy. If it were not for that, there would be a depression.

But here’s the latest news, and they know it. Even that will not last forever. What is coming — we do not have a crystal ball, we cannot predict the precise date — but there is an earthquake coming. I got this from Sara Flounders’ article in this week’s paper. An earthquake is coming. I’m talking about the crash of capitalism. I wish we could predict it and prepare for it in a very precise way, but we can’t do that.  

So while you’re fighting at home, remember there are bigger things happening that affect you. Something is coming, this deepening worldwide capitalist crisis. We have to be orienting more and more toward that.

I want to conclude by saying a little bit about the elections. Not their elections. To hell with their elections. What a bizarre puppet show that the capitalist media and billions and billions of dollars are forcing down the throats of workers who were already suffering. They don’t need to see that. Put on a baseball game. It would be an improvement.

I want to say a few words about the party’s election campaign. It’s not my job to give the main talk. My comrade, Teresa Gutierrez, is going to do that soon, I believe.

But I want to say this. We’re going to have an election campaign. I want to use my final seconds up here to throw out a couple of ideas. I don’t think it should be a routine campaign. I think it should be an out-of-the-box, revolutionary campaign. Sure, we’ll have a 10-point program that will hit all the right points: jobs for everyone, housing, women, antiracist, LGBTQ. It will touch all that. That will be the minimal program. People need that. Workers will look for that. It must be there.

But in our election campaign I would favor us also having a maximum program. I would also favor us saying that capitalism cannot be reformed. I think people would like that. I think it would resonate. And that it has to be abolished. The only question is, who is going to do it and how.

I think it would be an interesting idea, part of the job of our candidates, to call on people to rise up — not just tell them about our program. What can I do as a candidate? Tell you to rise up and form peoples’ power assemblies because the struggle is coming. Form them by the hundreds of thousands. Abolish the system. Abolish the death penalty.

One of the things we’re considering doing is setting up a people’s shadow government where we have people’s ministers running along with the candidates at the top of the ticket.  Maybe we can have a people’s minister of justice or people’s minister of women’s liberation or people’s minister of LGBTQ liberation, a people’s minister of international solidarity. Maybe we can even convince Pam Africa to be one of these ministers.

That will underscore the fact that we don’t think elections are the way you change things. We need a whole new government and a whole new system. It’s not too soon to imbue the masses with that notion.

Another thing is the Bernie Sanders campaign. I’m not going to go into how he says he’s a socialist but really he’s not. There’s not that much difference between him and Clinton. When you watch the two of them, you know I’m speaking the honest truth. But one thing he has done, and it’s a breakthrough. He has brought socialism — the idea of it — into the minds of people. At least in my lifetime no major candidate, in one of the bourgeois parties, has been in any way identified with socialism. This is a good thing.

One of the goals of our campaign will be to show people what socialism is really about. There are socialists and there are revolutionary socialists. We will show them the real thing. If activists and revolutionaries and socialists and communists and even anarchists, around the country, were really reflecting upon what it means that Sanders has done this, they would want to come together on a very serious basis and explore whether we can have some revolutionary socialist unity. Now is the time. I don’t know if there’s a basis for it. I don’t know what other organizations feel about it. One of the problems we have when things have been difficult for such a long time, organizations are like turtles. They sort of stick their heads in the shell and forget about everybody outside — it’s called sectarianism.

But we hope whether it’s among organizations or whether it is among individuals, independents, that this new life put into the word “socialism” is the basis for trying to galvanize some revolutionary socialist unity. I think our election campaign should be used for that purpose.

Thank you very much. Free Mumia! Long live Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz!