Louis Allday
Original publication: ebb-magazine.com

This is not an aberration; violence is central to the history, and present, of the United States (2020)

12 minutes | English

The Negro youth and moderate must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries.
 — J Edgar Hoover, 1968 [1]

The American sense of reality and the American sense of the world has been somehow hopelessly inhibited by the attempt to get away from something which is really theirs.
 — James Baldwin, 1971 [2]

There is a widespread assumption that the violence and destruction witnessed over the last week are an aberration to the American experience. [3] Countless headlines and social media posts, written in response to the latest onslaught of violence unleashed by the police against protesters, have employed a similar framing, which is roughly as follows: you think this is a miscellaneous non-Western state? Well, surprise, it’s America! Despite its pervasiveness, the notion that violence committed against its own citizens is what other, ostensibly less civilised non-Western nations do — not the ‘democracy’ of America — is a racist and ahistorical position that serves to conceal an almost unbroken line of violence against ‘its own people’ and countless others around the world since the US’ inception.

The negative comparisons with other countries, such as Iran, Venezuela, and the DPRK — nations deemed official enemies of the US, as though the US has stooped down to a lower moral plane through its recent actions, serve to perpetuate racist and chauvinistic myths about a once righteous US that never existed. As Samir Amin has argued in The American Ideology, even its supposedly virtuous revolution was in fact only a limited war of independence devoid of any social dimension, that carried out genocide against the Native Americans and never challenged slavery. [4]

For many, the protests and police violence of the last week have vividly evoked the revolutionary era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A period in which, galvanised by the Black Panther Party (BPP) and other organisations inspired by and linked to it, there was a sustained period of urban unrest throughout the US. These uprisings were crushed with overwhelming force by the country’s intelligence services, police, army and other paramilitary forces. One of the most infamous incidents of the period was the attack on a pro-BPP, anti-Vietnam war protest at Kent State University in 1970, in which National Guard members indiscriminately shot and bayoneted student protesters, killing four and injuring many more. [5] Many of the troops that suppressed protests at Kent State, Yale and other universities all over the US in this period had been explicitly told by their officers that ‘you will not be successfully prosecuted if you shoot someone while performing a duty’. [6] In short, they had been given a license to kill. And used it.

Fifty years later, it is almost certain those National Guard troops — who are currently being sent to occupy the streets of multiple American cities — have received similar assurances from their superiors, foremost amongst which is their Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump, who has not only justified but also explicitly called for lethal violence against protesters. However despicable those infamous killings at Kent State were, what is important to understand is that they are illustrative of the manner with which the US state — be it led by a Democrat or Republican administration — habitually deals with its citizens who dare to resist it.

The Kent State murders were not exceptional. In fact, this particular incident received the level of attention it has because the victims were white college students. Many comparable incidents throughout US history, where the victims were black, have been erased from the mainstream historical record. Destruction of black lives and property on an even larger scale, such as the annihilation of ‘Black Wall Street’ in Greenwood, Tulsa in 1921 when over 300 of its black inhabitants were killed, is similarly suppressed from popular memory. [7]

The treatment meted out by the US state and its actors upon black protesters and revolutionaries has been unremittingly brutal. The 1969 murder of the BPP youth leader, Fred Hampton, is indicative of the state’s ruthlessness when it deals with the threat posed by such inspirational leaders, who, notably in the case of Hampton, called for unity between races in the name of a proletarian revolution against capitalism and the US state. [8] [9] At just 21 years old, Hampton was drugged by an FBI infiltrator and then, while comatose in bed, executed by members of the Chicago Police Department through multiple gunshots to the head. Such callous state violence against prominent leaders who are deemed capable of uniting the black American masses against the state remains commonplace to this day. The fate of several of those individuals who led the protests in Ferguson in 2014 is testament to this continuity.

During the late 1960s in particular, the FBI genuinely feared that such a unifying leader, a black ‘messiah’, could bring about ‘a real “Mau Mau” in America, the beginning of a true black revolution’. [10] [11] Indeed, just one week before Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968, the FBI had cited him, alongside Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), as prime contenders to assume such a position. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X must be understood as part of a much broader wave of violence, intimidation, sabotage and repression focussed against the Black Nationalist movement and its allies, [12] most notably by the FBI’s COINTELPRO campaign (originally directed against the US Communist Party). [13] The US state was so determined to crush any and all internal resistance that, in the words of one US general, if the uprisings did not die down as the 1970s progressed, the Pentagon was ready to turn American cities into ‘scenes of destruction approaching those of Stalingrad during World War II’. [14] That willingness to use indiscriminate violence to crush internal uprisings has never dissipated, as the events in LA in 1992, Ferguson in 2014, Standing Rock in 2016-17 and nation-wide over the past week have made transparent.

There is a further layer of offense to the propensity of many Americans to only comprehend this recent wave of violence as though the US is temporarily acting like other implicitly ‘worse’ countries and that it should really be happening somewhere else like Caracas, Baghdad or Beirut. These ‘bad’ examples are frequently associated with violence in the mind of an average American as a consequence of the very same factor that now threatens US cities: the unceasing brutality of the US state. Beirut especially has become a lazy by-word for chaotic urban violence to many Americans of a certain age as a result of its civil war,and especially the 1980s period of that conflict, when a number of American citizens were kidnapped and some killed. But what is forgotten is that US marines were occupying Lebanon at the time; that the US was directly involved in sparking and sustaining the civil war itself; [15] and that the US is responsible for some of its worst violence, including the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila. [16]

As so many of those slain black revolutionaries understood all too well, there is a direct link between the daily racist violence inflicted upon them and their fellow black Americans and the violence the US military inflicted against civilians in Vietnam and elsewhere overseas; it is the intrinsic and ongoing link between racism, capitalism and imperialism. As the BPP revolutionary George Jackson — himself murdered by the state in San Quentin Prison in 1971 — wrote to Angela Davis a year before he was killed: ‘it’s no coincidence that Malcolm X and MLK died when they did … remember what was on his [X’s] lips when he died. Vietnam and economics, political economy’. [17] X had explicitly stated: ‘you can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find a person without racism … and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have this racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists’. [18] At this point he had begun working with the governments of a number of recently independent African countries, many of them socialist, to pass a UN resolution condemning the US as a colonial power for its treatment of its black citizens. [19] This proposal ‘terrified the American power elite’ and X was eliminated before he could proceed with it.

In Blood in My Eye, a book which Jackson heroically managed to finish in prison shortly before he was murdered as well, he wrote:

The US has established itself as the mortal enemy of all people’s governments, all scientific-socialist mobilization of consciousness everywhere on the globe, all anti-imperialist activity on earth. The history of this country in the last fifty years or more, the very nature of all its fundamental elements, and its economic, social, political and military mobilization distinguish it as the prototype of the international fascist counterrevolution. [20]

Jackson’s observation has only proven to be more accurate in the intervening half century. Therefore, in addition to their solidarity with the righteous cause of black Americans, it is for this reason, too, the eyes of many millions all over the world are now focussed so intensely on events in the US. Anything that has the capacity to weaken the US internally serves to strengthen the position and revolutionary potential of all progressive forces everywhere in the world. Jackson wrote at length about the potentially global significance of a revolution led by what he termed the US’ ‘black colony’ — a concern shared by the US state. As revealed by Maurice Bishop, one of the State Department’s primary fears concerning the Marxist-Leninist revolution in the small Caribbean island of Grenada in the early 1980s, was the fact that that its leadership and 95 percent of the country’s people were black, and therefore it could have ‘a dangerous appeal to 30 million black people in the United States’. [21] [22] This was deemed unacceptable and in 1983, after years of other means of sabotage against it, the US military invaded Grenada and swiftly crushed its short-lived revolutionary process. [23] [24]

Contrary to the blatantly racist notion that this ‘great nation’ should not lower itself to the standards of its enemies, it must be stated plainly that the US is in fact the global expert on assassinations, crushing internal dissent, controlling and intimidating the media and various acts of mass violence against protesters and opposition groups — all the very things that many people are now absurdly claiming to be ‘un-American’. The events of the past week have demonstrated this clearly. What remained of the superficial mask of American liberalism has — at least for now — dropped entirely, exposing the ugly fascism at its core.

In the days and weeks to come, many people — including some on the left — will scramble to pull that mask back up. Reforms, they will say, can address this problem, thereby implying the US remains a redeemable democracy morally superior to its enemies. But the reality is that the US is what it routinely accuses its enemies of being: an authoritarian, militarised police state that surveils, brutalises, imprisons and murders people at home and abroad with impunity — all in the service of the interests of its capitalist oligarchy, which lays claim to everything, everywhere. [25]

[1] Jay Feldman, 2011. Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance & Secrecy in Modern America. [web] [web] [web] 

[2] James Baldwin and Margaret Mead, 1973. A Rap on Race. [web] 

[3] The author references the Summer 2020 uprisings throughout the US, in response to the murder of George Floyd by agents of the Minneapolis Police Department. — Ed. [web] 

[4] Samir Amin, May 2003. The American Ideology. [web] 

[5] Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr., 2013. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. [web] [web] [web] [web] 

[6] Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr., 2013. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. [web] [web] [web] [web] 

[7] Redfish Media on Twitter, June 2020. [web] 

[8] Dan Berger, 2005. Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity. [web] 

[9] Fred Hampton’s “Fire Speech.” [web] 

[10] Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr., 2013. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. [web] [web] [web] [web] 

[11] Marc Parry, August 2016. “Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire.” The Guardian. [web] 

[12] Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr., 2013. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. [web] [web] [web] [web] 

[13] Jay Feldman, 2011. Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance & Secrecy in Modern America. [web] [web] [web] 

[14] Lorenzo, March 2019. Noam Chomsky and the Compatible Left, Part I. [web] 

[15] Dilip Hiro, 1993. Lebanon–Fire And Embers: A History Of The Lebanese Civil War. [web] 

[16] Rashid Khalidi, September 2017. “The United States Was Responsible for the 1982 Massacre of Palestinians in Beirut.” The Nation. [web] 

[17] George L. Jackson, 1970. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. [web] 

[18] George Breitman, 1988. The Assassination Of Malcolm X. [web] 

[19] Lorenzo, March 2019. Noam Chomsky and the Compatible Left, Part I. [web] 

[20] George L. Jackson, 1972. Blood in My Eye. [web] 

[21] Maurice Bishop, Maurice Bishop Speaks. [web] 

[22] Invent the Future, March 2014. Legacy of the Grenadian Revolution. [web] 

[23] M. Carmen Ashhurst, John Douglas, and Samori Marksman, 1983. Grenada: The Future Coming Towards Us. [web] 

[24] Audre Lorde, 1984. Grenada Revisited. [web] 

[25] Zachary Davies Boren, April 2014. “The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.” The Telegraph. [web]