These slightly edited remarks were made at a Nov. 23 Workers World Party forum titled, “What road to socialism?” Motema is an organizer with the People’s Power Assemblies/NYC.
Racism perpetrated by the U.S. state, whether by police domestically or by the CIA, U.S. State Department and U.S. military in other countries, operates the same way. The foundation of racialized violence is to lie about the victim, and these lies always follow a similar pattern.
We are told that (1) the primary target of U.S. state violence is a violent thug, that (2) they come from a broken culture that produces criminality, and that (3) the use of violent force is a net benefit to the targeted community at large.
The road to socialism
Everyone in this room understands this. Many of you have written on this subject and documented the lies of the U.S. state in detail. What bears discussion is how this information is communicated to the masses at large. The road to socialism is through the people.
The road to socialism is through organizing the masses. Educating them about the political character of their oppression and identifying their class enemies. By collectivizing and educating the masses, we can then concentrate our forces against the capitalist ruling class and engage in revolutionary struggle.
But this requires that we explain to folks that their oppression is directly linked with the oppression faced by people living thousands of miles away. Further, we have to explain that this link goes beyond moral empathy. Someone living in New York City can easily understand why the lynching of Indigenous people in Bolivia is wrong. They do not need Marxists to explain the basics of morality.
But what may not be clear is how the overthrow of a democratic government in Bolivia is part of the same neoliberal program that brought 500 new cops to our subway platforms. And further, that a defeat of the forces of imperialism in Bolivia is a victory for oppressed people here. Our job is to provide that clarity.
The focus of my talk will be on the way that domestic and international state repression mirror each other. I have found that discussing the international struggle in this way resonates strongly with people who are new to the struggle.
Capitalism is racist
One of the most important things to communicate to people when organizing is that racism is motivated by the material interests of the ruling class. Liberals have been extremely effective at spreading the myth that racism is driven by individual hatred. Under the liberal model, in order to determine whether someone is perpetuating racism, we need to perform a heart exam.
That is, we need to find out if so and so is truly a racist “in their heart.” This false paradigm leads to confusing and unproductive discussions where people end up debating whether all cops are racist or if some are redeemable.
It’s important to refocus the discussion on the material dimension. Specifically, the extraction of wealth. The police in the U.S. exist to protect the ruling class and to extract wealth from the working class — especially the Black and Brown community. The current MTA [Manhattan Transit Authority] struggle serves as a clear example.
Wall Street desperately wants to continue collecting debt service from MTA fares. However, due to crumbling infrastructure and increasing poverty, the working class is less and less likely to tolerate a toll for public transportation.
The only way Wall Street can continue to extract wealth from the working class is through an injection of police officers on subway platforms who use violence to force Black and Brown people to pay for a service that barely works.
This process repeats itself in other countries. As the environmental crisis worsens, there is an incredible demand for non-fossil-fuel sources. These alternative energy sources rely on battery power storage, and one of the primary components of rechargeable batteries is lithium.
The people of Bolivia have the fortune — and the misfortune — of living on top of one of the world’s largest stores of lithium. [Former President] Evo Morales understood that national ownership of Bolivia’s lithium could provide his country with an increasing standard of living while helping the rest of the world convert to green energy.
But such an arrangement would deny U.S. and European companies’ profits from the mining of lithium, and therefore, this arrangement was intolerable. U.S. foreign economic policy demands that U.S./European companies have unfettered access to the resources of the Global South and the profits that result.
In order to extract those profits and wealth, the emerging picture seems to be that the U.S.-backed, right-wing military, police and militia in Bolivia forced Evo Morales out of office to make room for a Christo-fascist [evangelical] government that would ensure U.S./European economic control in Bolivia.
These coup forces have used anti-Indigenous racism as a rallying standard for their movement. In La Paz, Bolivia, as in New York City, racism serves the goal of capitalist wealth extraction.
Lies and criminalization: ‘thugs, dictators and thuggish dictators’
The U.S. does not present itself as an evil empire. In spite of its immense crimes against humanity, the U.S. claims to be the leading moral force in the world. Therefore, the murder of unarmed Black people in the U.S., or the overthrow of foreign governments, need to be justified somehow as moral acts. The way they do this is by lying and slandering the victims of U.S. aggression.
Black and Brown people immediately understand what you are talking about when you say the phrase, “He was no angel.” They understand the racialized nature of the term “thug.” They know that this is the way the police reinforce the stereotype of Black criminality.
They know that after an unarmed person of color is killed by the police, their personal records will be searched for any infraction — no matter how minor, no matter how unrelated — to smear their character.
This character assassination, following the physical assassination, is done to morally justify state violence and to make white people feel comfortable about the actions of the state. And oppressed nationalities understand this. So it’s important to explain that the U.S. follows the same pattern of violence and slander in other countries.
Countries that use their resources primarily for the benefit of their own people, rather than for the benefit of U.S. companies, do not have “democratically elected” presidents and prime ministers, at least according to U.S. media. The U.S. State Department, and its propaganda arm in the media, will only ever refer to these leaders as dictators, no matter how many votes they receive. These dictators are not the heads of governments or administrations; they are the leaders of “regimes.” Usually “brutal regimes.”
Black and Brown people know that the terms “thug” and “gang member” are racial codes that signal that the person being described is inferior and violent. As revolutionary organizers, we need to make the connection that terms like “dictator” and “regime” are always used in the exact same way. The parallels are so close that we often hear them cross over, and certain leaders are referred to as “thuggish dictators.”
Another dog whistle is the term “corruption.” Foreign governments, especially in Africa and Latin America, are said to be “plagued by corruption.” The use of the word “plague” implies an affliction. Something that becomes part of a person whom they cannot control.
What’s really being said here is that Black and Latinx people are not capable of being in positions of responsibility without stealing whenever they get the chance. Oftentimes, allegations of corruption are completely manufactured. This is the same racist ideology that argues that Black and Brown people in the U.S. suffer from poverty, crime and a lack of education for “cultural reasons.”
But Black and Brown people do not steal for cultural reasons, here or abroad. They are not poor for cultural reasons, in North America or South America. Black and Brown people in the U.S. and abroad are stolen from. They are made poor by the thievery of the ruling class and the U.S. state.
And perhaps the primary moral appeal is to invoke sympathy for innocent bystanders within a targeted community. During the height of the war on drugs, the incredible violence used against mostly Black men was justified as a means of protecting the larger Black community. The victims of police violence were skillfully divided from their own population through clever language.
The police told us that drug dealers were “poisoning their own community.” The idea is that targeted individuals are not members of the community who are victimized by police violence; rather they are aberrant predators who are inflicting harm on other innocent people, whom we should pity.
This is how police violence against Black men becomes an act of mercy toward the Black community at large.
We have to explain that this language that says, “thugs and drug dealers are poisoning their own community” comes from the same template as the phrase, “dictators who gas their own people.” It’s the exact same concept.
The U.S. masks its racism by feigning pity for the innocent civilians of a targeted country, and they pretend that the political leaders of that country are a distinct and separate element which is harming the people of that country. But when they talk about poisoning communities, they will never talk about the Flint water crisis or depleted uranium in Iraq.
Us against them
What’s necessary as we build toward socialist revolution is to explain to the masses who their class enemies are and who their allies are. We must organize the working class into political mass organizations that have the power to take control of the means of production. Class consciousness is higher today than it has been in decades. But there is a tremendous amount of political education that still needs to be done.
We can’t effectively organize the working class if they don’t understand that the people of Bolivia are part of the international working class. They can’t fight against the ruling class unless they understand that folks in the South Bronx are on the exact same side as the folks in La Paz and that the NYPD [New York Police Department] and the CIA are two sides of the same coin.
Making these connections is not just important for solidarity. It’s important because it provides clarity in the struggle. It prevents future contradictions from emerging within the struggle, such as the contradiction between POC [People of Color] who are U.S. citizens and POC who are undocumented.
And it inoculates the working class from attempts at cooption and controlled opposition by nongovernmental organizations, Democrats and social democrats because those forces are totally incapable of standing against U.S. imperialism.
The road to socialism is through agitation, education and organization of the masses. An essential part of that is explaining that U.S. racism respects no borders.
(WW photo: Brenda Ryan)