More than 100 people marched through downtown Newark on June 24 demanding reparations for the African holocaust. The marchers received an overwhelmingly friendly response from bystanders.
July 12 marks the 50th anniversary of the four-day Newark rebellion, sparked by the vicious beating of a Black cab driver by white police. State troopers and National Guard soldiers, along with the nearly all-white police force, attacked crowds of Black youth with clubs and bullets. When it was over, 26 people, mostly African Americans, lay dead.
Then, as now, the roots of such rebellions reached deeper than the daily racist attacks on Black youth by white cops, as terrible as those are. Job discrimination, redlining, segregated schools and other aspects of institutional racism have combined to oppress and exploit African-American people.
This oppression is not a sidebar to capitalist production. It is, and always has been, at the core of this economic and social system, which exploits the labor of millions of workers and directs the surplus value they produce into the pockets of parasitic billionaires who control the state. Many of the banking houses, insurance companies and financiers that funded the industrial revolution in Europe and the U.S. accumulated their initial capital from huge slave plantations in the colonies and the U.S. South. Many of today’s big Wall Street firms owe their beginnings to slavery. Their continuing robbery of oppressed communities has only piled more wealth into their vaults.
The brutality of slavery, with its torture, rape and murder, is beyond measure. But the immense wealth created by the labor of millions of unpaid enslaved people has been calculated. Among many published studies, one authored by University of Connecticut researcher Thomas Craemer estimates the value of that plunder as $6 trillion to $14 trillion at today’s value. And that covers just the period between the founding of the U.S. in 1776 and the Civil War. (newsweek.com, Aug. 19, 2015)
Since the dawn of capitalism, workers have waged an unrelenting struggle with the capitalist class over the surplus value their labor has created. This struggle takes many forms. For example, Wall Street, using Trump and other capitalist politicians, now aims to sharply reduce that portion of the surplus value that is used to purchase health care for the workers and poor through Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid. This fight addresses whether billions of dollars of wealth produced by the workers will be used for their families’ health care or instead to fund tax breaks for the billionaire class.
For the working class as a whole, the struggle for reparations is a front in that same battle. The issue is not how long ago slavery existed or how reparations may be distributed. It is whether the immense value accumulated from the unpaid labor of enslaved people should go to their working-class descendants to uplift their living standards, which are far below those of many other workers.
Even though he speaks of the working class and calls himself a socialist, Bernie Sanders refused the advice of Ta-Nehisi Coates and other Black activists who urged him to include support for reparations in his presidential campaign program. Sanders invoked the difficulty of getting it through Congress, but that can be said of any righteous demand for the workers, including single-payer health insurance, which he does advocate.
By contrast, Workers World Party’s 2016 presidential ticket of Monica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly made the demand for reparations number one on their list of campaign planks. As a Marxist-Leninist, multinational, working-class party, Workers World recognizes that supporting the call by oppressed communities for reparations is essential to unite the working class in the struggle to overturn this racist system and transfer all the wealth now monopolized by the banks and bosses into the hands of the class that produced it.