1968: The King Assassination
Sparks Mass Rebellions

In order to avoid the explosive effects of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the U.S. government immediately embarked on a massive diversionary tactic of unprecedented proportions. It can be said without exaggeration that the administration mobilized virtually all its political, social and psychological resources to put across its maneuvers. To insure a cooperative effort, the government had the full support of practically all sections of the capitalist class.

To begin with, the government has a pre-existing arrangement with the total communication system of the U.S. on how to deal with such a contingency. The press, radio and, of course, TV brought the message of the ruling class across to the point of utter and complete saturation. It was virtually impossible for anyone to avoid its effects except by shutting their ears or closing their eyes.

But powerful as the weapon of imperialist propaganda is, by itself it has yet to prove effective enough to stop a widespread rebellion. No one knows this better than the architects of the "contingency plans for civil disorder" -- the would-be executioners of the Black people. For, along with elaborate plans for propaganda, they had even more elaborate and more massive plans for the use of brutal and violent methods of repression.

On the surface, the ruling class strategy was calculated to convey a warm message of good will and deep sorrow at the murder of Reverend King, and a promise to do justice to the Black people, at long last. But through the message ran the all-too-familiar plea for "peace, brotherly love, and nonviolence" -- code words that have invariably meant, in practice, abject submission to the will of the masterclass, especially during times of rebellion.

No wonder the message fell flat on its face! Even where it is for the time being heeded, it will surely backfire before too long. The deeds of centuries of oppression cannot be undone by a torrential rain of sanctimonious rhetoric while the fundamental problems remain totally unsolved.

It is precisely with this in mind that the government really prepared not one plan of approach to the impending Black revolt during the coming summer, but two. One was for ideological purposes, to deceive the Black and white masses with finespun phrases, empty promises and elusive long-term plans for freedom, which never seem to even get off the ground.

What distinguishes this plan from all the others lies precisely in its massive character, in the fact that the government mobilized all and sundry to approve it and to trumpet it so long and loudly, as if its very duration would lend it credibility.

The other plan, prepared parallel with the first one, was the classical use of sheer brute force, and it is this which, for the moment at least, has proved decisive as it always does when the masses are unarmed and unorganized.

The rebellions which opened spontaneously upon the heels of the announcement of the assassination of Reverend King were so widespread that they had an almost universal character throughout the length and breadth of this land. The magnitude and depth of the uprising were so great that President Lyndon Johnson had to cancel his Vietnam conference in Honolulu to attend to the crisis here -- a sure sign that for the moment at least, the war of liberation at home took precedence over the war of liberation waged by the Vietnamese people abroad.

It is sufficient merely to remember that the storm of uprising engulfed 110 cities as of April 9, as revealed by the New York Times. Nowhere in recent history has there taken place such a simultaneous and completely spontaneous rising as we witnessed last week. Its very scope and magnitude send terror and confusion into the camp of the ruling class. The very fierceness and boldness of the mass rising were the only real factors that stopped the government from unloosing as extreme a terror as it did last summer.

Nevertheless, in the space of barely three days, the government made 16,255 arrests, left 3,550 injured and 38 dead, all as of April 8.

It must be remembered that many smaller cities did not report at all at press time. Many of them generally refuse to release the true number of arrests or injured except on official request from higher authorities.

No matter how the bourgeois press will distort the real character of the events following the assassination, there are two fundamental aspects of these events which cannot be obscured by mere propaganda.

The first one is that the uprisings were not of an accidental character, or solely a protest at the murder of Reverend King, but were a general expression of the revolutionary momentum inherent in the liberation struggle. The King assassination crystallized and accelerated the tempo of the rebellions.

The second aspect of the rebellions is the implicit rejection of the theory of nonviolence as a method of achieving liberation. The ruling class could scarcely fail to notice this.

To the extent that more token concessions are made to the Black masses, they are to be regarded as a by-product of the struggle carried on by the masses, and not at all as concessions handed down from above to assuage the grief of the masses.

(It is plain for all to see that the passage of the current token civil rights bill in the reactionary House of Representatives by such a decisive majority is clearly a concession to the rebellions of the past week.) Throughout the entire period until the burial of King, the ruling class so manipulated all of the important public events that aside from the rebellions themselves there was no truly visible and significant independent expression of the Black masses.

Radio and television, press and pulpit, as well as outside gatherings, all of which were controlled by white bourgeois elements, monitored almost all public expressions of political sentiment. Few indeed were the independent militant Black voices given the opportunity to be heard except for short intervals and on rare occasions.

The very sight of Nixon, Rockefeller, Kennedy, Romney, Humphrey and the other pillars of imperialist racism at the funeral could not but help add insult to injury. The masses of people were even deprived of having their own way of interpreting the events. No wonder the masses resorted to retaliatory force!

In the epoch of imperialist decay, force has been the only arbiter in great events. Not a single important contemporary world issue has been decided without it, and until imperialism is swept off the face of the earth, that is how it will invariably be. Peaceful methods for the solution of great problems as well as small will prevail and endure after the reactionary obstruction of monopoly capitalism and racist oppression are swept away by a proletarian revolution.

-- April 11, 1968

Main menu Book menu