Is the Uprising in the United States a Revolutionary Moment?
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while calling out, “I can’t breathe!” The next day, a popular uprising swept the country. It is impossible to give numbers and statistics to fully communicate the extent of this resistance. Protests are taking place coast to coast, in large cities, small towns, and rural areas—literally thousands of demonstrations, and the momentum continues.
There has also been an upsurge in repression on the part of both the police and private paramilitary hate groups. There have been thousands of arrests made across thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrations, and there have been police killings of unarmed people. Journalists are being targeted.
The Guardian counted 148 journalists arrested or attacked by police between May 26 and June 2, 2020. The Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom of the Press Foundation reported 328 “press freedom violations” during that period. Usually, there are between 100 and 150 reports in any given year. Death squads and members of hate groups have carried out acts of violence that have included the assassination of police with the intention of blaming protesters.
Five Black men, so far, have been hanged in public places, and many organizers across the nation are reporting threats and harassment.
The entire history of the United States and North American colonization is dominated by institutionalized racism. This racism is sharply visible in the US (in)justice system. A Black person is 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than a White person for similar circumstances, although the White suspect is more likely to be armed. While Black persons make up 13% of our population, 24% of all police killings are against Black suspects. Prison populations are 40% Black, and 32% Latino. Throughout the general population, US police are 100 times more likely to kill suspects than in other developed capitalist countries.
Is this uprising a revolution? In some ways, yes. Any significant challenge to racism is a challenge to the foundations of the status quo of power in the U.S. But in terms of a complete turn around of this society, that is not what we are seeing. The underlying racism of the police, courts, and jails is being confronted. But the police, judges, and jailers serve and protect a broader systemic racism woven into the fabric of capitalism. For a movement to be truly revolutionary, it must truly take power away from the rulers and their henchmen, and put it in the hands of the people. And in the US, the movement must be anti-imperialist. Clearly, though, the seeds of revolution are present.
There is a strong effort by segments of the military, traditional political, and capitalist power structures to ingratiate themselves with the movement, and to co opt it. Former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, aka “the Butcher of Fallujah”, declared “The words, ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are…precisely what protesters are rightly demanding….” Republican Senator Mitt Romney has marched side by side with protesters. The world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, has stated, “I support this movement….”
A cross-class, popular front is emerging against extreme racism and the march toward fascism. But ruling class support is a veiled attempt to preserve power and convince people that they are “one of us”.
We have been treated to images of police and protesters swaying together at candlelight vigils, even dancing together in the streets. These same police later attack with tear gas, rubber bullets, and swinging batons. Those military leaders who denounce racism and defend democracy spend every waking moment of every day prosecuting wars and occupations against countries that are majority people of color.
In 2014 I addressed a gathering of the Communist Party of Peru-Patria Roja about US popular movements. This was during the uprising after the killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri. I noted that given a future of ecological and economic collapse, militant racism and anti-immigrant attitudes, and an ever-growing wealth gap, the one thing I could predict confidently is that the U.S. would not remain the same. We would turn sharply toward the Left and socialism, or towards fascism. Since 2014, political consciousness has matured, and Black Lives Matter continues to lead the way to broad change.
The revolutionary potential of the uprisings is real. Alexander Lynn is a U.S. activist who recently wrote:
“People, we are in a revolutionary situation. Under conditions during which the people refuse to leave the street, the content and form of our actions changes day-by-day, rises to a higher level. When last week the people were demanding community control of the police, today they are demanding to abolish the police…. When last week the people were chanting:
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Racist cops have got to go, today they are chanting, Hey, hey, ho ho, All cops have got to go….As…consciousness of our own power grows, demands to the enemy change into proclamations… to make the changes we need ourselves. When last week we were chanting, No justice, no peace, it has changed this week to, And if we don’t get it? SHUT IT DOWN!…. Do not sleep…when history is being made. Do not leave the work to others…. The people alone are the motive force in the making of world history.
He is right. It is time to go out and make history!