As revolutionary dreams evaporated, the century turned, and poverty and despair became etched so deeply into our existence that the lofty political dreams we aspired to in the past became myths. The Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army’s actions have become distant legend, and their political stances tales. Nixon’s counter-revolution transitioned smoothly to Reagan’s and then to Clinton’s, with such sheer barbarism the cities still have yet to clean their bloodstained streets. As family after family was torn apart and poverty took its toll, our revolutionary history wasn’t denied, but simply forgotten. Even as the fighters of the recent past sit behind penitentiary walls and the symbols of revolution were transformed into commodities, their revolutionary intentions were buried, and forgotten by many.
With the rise of 20th Century liberation movements in the United States and abroad—from socialist and national liberation struggles to the Black Panther Party–the US government fought to ensure its hegemonic dominance of the world system. The powerful proclaimed the “End of History,” the black revolution had been overwhelmed, and socialist movements discredited due to the Soviet Union’s centralization and collapse. The US-led capitalist world system finally had complete hegemonic reign over the entire globe. George Bush proclaimed a “New World Order” and Bill Clinton had the liberty to act freely on the world with little impediment to US power. Despite this, unforeseen cracks quickly emerged.
The world of the powerful, which appeared so secure, was rapidly disintegrating into a hellish nightmare of endless war, bloodshed, and permanent strife. Yet the limits of the United States’ power has become clear. In recent years, the US spent massive amounts of money on military to buttress its political ineptness. This strategy was a remarkable failure as its military weakness became apparent with colossal failures in Iraq, Palestine, and the Americas.
The US government continuously played a sordid double game on its population, preaching sermons of peace while delivering war, extolling the virtues of success while providing destitution, singing the songs of freedom while creating the largest prison society on earth. The government has diligently rendered the society so bereft and fatigued that many simply found it easier to ignore the slavery and despotism outside their own door. Our collective imaginations have become so impoverished that many have trouble even dreaming of a better world.
This was not the case everywhere. In Chiapas, Mexico armed rebels emerged from the jungle fighting for dignity, bearing an anti-state egalitarian ideology reminiscent of the Spanish revolution. Masked fighters began besieging summit meetings in capital cities across the globe. Revolutionaries formed an autonomous enclave in Athens, Greece, and armed groups launched a war against their government. Uprisings and social movements continued to arise, with eloquent defiance, trying to chart a new path for revolutionary momentum around the globe; they each outlined new possibilities and pitfalls, but also illuminated the scope of our historic problems. In the United States, new movements arose, but few grounded themselves firmly enough to pass the strategic threshold necessary for revolutionary change. As they ebb and flow, the misery of American society has become increasingly entrenched. The need for organization beyond protest movements is glaringly obvious.
What we find the need to articulate here is that the political situation in the US–while increasingly violent and volatile, and rapidly developing–is a clear continuation of the policies that have been enacted since the Civil War. Essentially, the Civil War never ended. The struggle against chattel slavery, from neighborhoods demolished by the ‘war on drugs’ to the prison-industrial apparatus, and resistance to US expansion across the continent is the same war being waged today in another form. The primary question, then, is how do we organize to abolish slavery, and stop the expansion of the slave-project?
The State, in complicity with white supremacist organizations, has done everything in its capacity to ensure that the relations of slavery were entrenched in US political, social, and economic life. In doing so it ensured that its slave populace, and other targeted populations, would remain in bondage, trapped in its carceral apparatuses. In reaction to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of a black man to the height of its political machine, coupled with the decline of US imperial power in the 21st Century, hegemonic power birthed the only logical solution to preserving its dominant grip: a fascist movement to take control of the State. The ascendance of Donald Trump to power is the natural outcome of the white supremacist state.
It is in this context that a revolutionary political movement must reawaken. We cannot just rely on the movements of the recent past. We must look at the beginning of the struggle against slavery to properly orient our actions, while also adapting models from the successful revolutionary projects of our own time.
History will judge the decisions we make today, and the targets of our ire have never more clear. Will we standby and watch as the State continues to confine millions in its detention camps? Will we allow another Mike Brown or Akai Gurley to be murdered in cold blood? Will we permit the ethnic cleansing of thirteen million people through industrial-scale deportation? As Mumia Abu Jamal exclaimed about Tamir Rice, “When a child dies, adults don’t deserve to breathe their stolen air.” Will we deserve to breathe while knowing that millions of people are still enslaved in our midst? Our historical mission is clear. We must burn down the American plantation once and for all.