Poverty and violence in the USA Ruthless Criticism

Translated from MSZ 4-1980

Race riots in Florida

Poverty and violence in the USA

At the end of the race riots in the Miami ghetto, the dead were counted and the property damage added up. According to official and journalistic explanations, it was an “outbreak of violence” comparable to the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the difference being that the latter is a spectacle of great tourist value and a certain uniqueness, while street battles between blacks and the National Guard are seasonal summer occurrences, sometimes explained by the “heat of the night.”

At the same time, no newspaper can resist rehashing some post hoc background information that is supposed to make it clear that something like this was bound to happen again: the recession, the increasing unemployment among black youth, the Cubans pouring into Florida, the cutbacks in welfare programs, the increasing brutality of the police, etc. By declaring looting Negroes and shooting policemen to be effects of recession, unemployment, or even the “daily stress of ghetto life” (FAZ), the conclusion is drawn, and the case then closed, that events like those in Miami are somehow part of America, but on the other hand also aren’t, because they can be excused as aberrations of a system that could actually be spared such blemishes if not for inflation, recession, Cubans, and police violence.

Burn, baby, burn!

The fact that such ghetto uprisings are a normal part of daily American life shows, on the one hand, that there are enough reasons for blacks to be outraged about their living conditions and, on the other, that their outrage – in its periodic reappearance – is inconsequential and self-destructive. The causes are already strange: this time once again it was the constellation “white (policeman) shoots black and is acquitted by whites” that made the anger in the ghetto boil over – it took the demonstration of the blatantly repressive character of American justice. Not that the blacks made a surprising discovery; on the contrary, this use of the law against them is a self-evident fact which occasionally – especially in extreme cases – incites them to just one thought: let’s do what the whites do to us every day! They do this, of course, without having public protection behind them and without the idea that this would change anything, let alone improve their absolutely inferior status. The peculiarity that the American state does not consider it necessary to completely deprive its citizens of private violence since it only solidifies the results of competition as they are intended in law, that it even puts the law in their hands as a means of enforcing the “American way of life,” the Negroes learn in always being outgunned. Conversely, the fact that they get beaten in the competition is not least due to the fact that their white competitors still quite legally manage state force. The conclusion they draw from this is as simple as it is wrong: we can do that too! They stage a violent demonstration of dissatisfaction in which the everyday criminal forms of securing survival are practiced in public and without inhibition for a few days as a rebellion. The verdict about “senseless destruction,” by which the citizen declares that he can already imagine very sensible destruction, finds its best evidence here, when the Negroes get out of control, though not without reason, but without being able or wanting to achieve anything with it. The (white) citizen – satisfied – refers to the futility of their actions in order to deny any reason to them, instead attributing them to the instinctive nature of blacks.

Depending on the occasion, the rebellion’s order of events is also quite routine: The blacks prey on whites who are by chance walking by, sometimes crossing the border of the ghetto to invade the white districts, rob some supermarkets, and finally start getting pushed back into the ghetto where they burn down their own cars and apartment blocks. At that point at the latest, it becomes clear that revenge is not the driving force behind their actions, but only the temporarily simulated reversal of their powerlessness in the face of the dreadfulness of their living conditions. Acting more “rationally” are the whites who feel called upon to demonstrate what order is and must remain, thus acting in the truest sense of the word as guardians of order, which is not contradicted by a few small acts of revenge:

“The next day, white men in flatbed trucks raided black residential areas, shot into the crowd and killed at least three people.” (US World an News Report)

And America’s youth use the opportunity to prove themselves in the virtues of their country – they show responsibility, business acumen and independence when it matters:

“Some white teenagers offered to defend an antique shop if they got rifles and 100 dollars each. The shop owner: ‘They were fantastic. I gave them a $50 bonus.’” (Time, 6.2)

A successful demonstration of the American principle of life – be the pursuer of your happiness under all circumstances, by fighting your competitor by all means, as long as he is weaker than you.

The real force for keeping order seals off the borders around the ghetto while waiting for emotions to let off steam before eventually marching in, and with the last flames crushes the last acts of resistance. This then is really rational behavior, whereby the state restores everyday life to its well-trodden path in its ghetto with minimal expenditures.

Of course, there is also a “sensible” element among the blacks who are more or less hoping for a respectable career: In view of the events, these people can think of nothing else but appealing to America’s ideals, in which they are then regularly disappointed. So they go there and remind everyone of the old civil rights movement –

“The demonstrators sang ‘We shall overcome’ and shouted slogans like ‘No white policemen in black neighborhoods.’” (Guardian)

– still hoping for a more peaceful form for their misery, only to resign again afterwards until the next time:

“America is a damned lie.”
“The main feeling among blacks is against the violence, precisely because the spark of hope that once made people believe that rioting could shake America’s conscience has been extinguished.”

But here the two “elements” of the ghetto population are the same: they don’t think about a real change to their plight – that has to remain out of the question, as long as everything is seen only as a problem of the blacks. That neither appeals to America’s “conscience” nor sporadic attempts to violently upend lawful relations are a rejection of America has been visible at least since ghetto youth campaigned for Black Power on running tracks or in Vietnam. We have yet to hear of black Americans rejecting national aspirations. By taking what American society presents to them negatively as the reason for their misery, namely their blackness, as the real reason, they firmly deceive themselves about their special functionality for American exploitation. They actually believe that white America is racist, whereas capitalism – enlightened as it is – accepts old human prejudices only if they are subservient to profit. So it is not racism that is the reason for Negro poverty – it just seems as if the stupid white wage workers are to blame for everything – but the competition that makes racism subservient to it.

In the ghetto

The ghettos in the major American cities do not exist because blacks were herded into certain neighborhoods by armed whites, nor because the Soulbrothers and Soulsisters are so fond of being crowded together, but rather because of an economic coercion that forces blacks to quite voluntarily settle in these ghettos. What this coercion consists of can be seen in the manifestations of misery:

The competition in the USA has created exactly this reserve army of scum and settles it in social enclaves which are a caricature of the Great Society: In addition to the vegged out masses, there is a hierarchy of power in the ghetto that earns its living from poverty and hopelessness, either in administrative jobs in the black community or in caring for the “antisocial” element as pastors, teachers, doctors and “street workers.” In addition to the black capitalists with their supermarkets, day-labor factories and casual employment agencies, the organizers of rackets in gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking rank at the top of the ghetto’s “social structure” and among the notables of the honorable black establishment because they have come out on top in the competition with the means suitable and customary for the ghetto. Isolating those who are cast out from the competition or who are always useless to it limits the faux frais of the state for the administration of its lumpen proletariat to the costs of police and other features of the apparatus of violence. The misery is confined to clearly defined residential areas and not a problem for American society. Horror stories about “Harlem by day and night” are good for parties, and a militia is quickly organized for protection from possible assaults – all they have to do is get their rifles out of the closet.

While other states administer their social rejects and even pay this cost with some taxpayer money in order to keep it under control (a “welfare state” is what it’s called), the US foregoes this and lets the more successful part of the wage working class have the nice feeling that it is significantly better off in material terms – a feeling that draws its whole justification from observing the contrast and, of course, seems all the greater, the greater the poverty it contrasts with.

The concentration of pauperism to the colored minorities and the equation of race and a lack of competitiveness has worked out particularly well for the Americans, but is a component of all democracies:

The completely fair racial competition

The English workers of the 19th century responded to the importing of cheap wage slaves from the peripheries of the capitalist metropolises in order to perform the useful function of wage suppression in relation to the native workers with hatred for the “dirty Irish,” just as the workers in the Federal Republic of Germany transformed the capital-imposed competition with guest workers into a comparison of opposing national characters, and it was clear from the outset who has the better one. While this racism is usefully built into competition, the US established it as the principle of competition from the outset: English against Irish, Irish against Italian, Italian against Poles and Jews, Jews against Chinese, and everyone against the Negroes. Ever since the Negroes were released from slavery into wage labor, the latter has been organized in two ways: in the southern states, where capital has never had to deal with labor unions, because all attempts in this direction had already been defeated from the outset, the niggers were allowed to do the lowest jobs for starvation wages, and the whites were kept in line with slightly better pay and the feeling that they are still better than the dirty niggers. The whole thing can be fueled by government-approved imports from Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico and other beautiful lands, of illegal immigrants who are willing to work for less than the federal minimum wage. In the north, the Negro was recognized as an equal labor power, although all other institutions of social life were barred to him. The Civil Rights movement was sparked above all by the fact that all sorts of additional barriers made it difficult for the economically better-off blacks to gain power and influence in American society: “white” universities and schools were barred to them, as well as access to political offices, associations and unions, preventing them from influencing the distribution of economic sinecures and advantages. The Equal Rights Amendment of 1964 created the legal basis for blacks to be able to fight their way into the competition, which they did in a thoroughly American way: they “convinced” the economically and politically powerful that equal admission of Negroes to competition could definitely be to their advantage. For example, “Operation Breadbasket,” which used boycott calls to move companies in the big cities of the North to fill their branches in black areas with black workers. The whole thing was not uncharacteristically called “Black Capitalism” and was commented on by Time magazine at the time:

“All these efforts serve to strengthen black people’s conviction that they will eventually be able to compete successfully with whites.” (6.4.1970)

They have done that too; with the result that there is now an establishment of black businessmen and bankers who specialize in exploiting the labor power of people with their own skin color, black politicians elected by ghetto dwellers – and the rest.

The struggle for equal access to public offices and jobs naturally increases neither the number of offices nor the number of jobs – apart from those in the black lobby organizations themselves, which are not a bad way to live. The integration of black workers into the unionized work force of the North was answered by capital in its own way:

“In recent decades, Chicago has lost at least 500,000 jobs to the suburbs and to the Sun Belt – mostly those that require unskilled labor and that had just attracted black people from the south to Chicago.” (Time, 6.16)

As the reserve army of the South moved to the ghettos of the North in the hope of finding work, capital moved to the South, where unionization has been successfully prevented with the use of all sorts of state and private power, thus creating a new reserve; and the mobility of capital across an entire continent, secure in knowing that it can find the workers it needs anywhere, creates pauperism as its permanent basis – true to an analysis from the last century:

“The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, also develop the labour-power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army thus increases with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to the amount of torture it has to undergo in the form of labour. The more extensive, finally, the lazarus-layers of the working class, and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation.” (K. Marx, Capital, Vol. I)

The modernized racism in America no longer needs to bar its black citizens from entering restaurants through the front door or attending the same schools. As a white person, however, one then takes one’s children out of the school if one can afford it financially, because the level of education sinks with the Negroes, not least thanks to the providential stipulation of the American school system that schools are to be paid for out of the property taxes of the respective residential area. And living on the same housing block as a black person is out of the question because it will lower the value of one’s own home, which one has painstakingly toiled away at – and no seller or landlord can expect that of his customers – if only out of financial self-interest. So the education and housing situation of whites and blacks in the big cities is decided quite fairly according to the criteria of free competition.

A fair shake and fair play

Making promises was therefore an easy exercise for Attorney General Ben Civiletti, who was flown in. As his name suggests, the American state only enforces the civilizing achievements of American society against the instinctive nature of blacks. This is all the more justified since the racial problem has been legally eliminated by giving minorities every opportunity to naturalize through civil rights. It is no longer up to the state to grapple with the fact that the ghettos are not becoming emptier, on the contrary, poverty and its attendant symptoms are constantly increasing there. The public discussion of this poverty therefore only serves to critically state how little black fellow citizens have managed to gain economic advantage from equal rights.

“Politically, blacks have made significant progress over the last 10 years. There are black mayors in Los Angeles, Washington, Detroit, Atlanta and New Orleans, and black judges and city councilors in considerable numbers across the states – a total of about 4,600 elected officials. But [!] the housing situation remains dreadful, health care unreliable, and despite some reforms too many big city blacks, especially the youth, see white policemen as their natural enemy.” (Time, 6.16)

It is acknowledged that the legal equality of blacks has in some cases had a positive effect on “social peace” –

“The fact that in New York, for example, blacks are heard by the city administration has helped to alleviate some ugly situations.” (Time, 6.16)

And the state therefore allows as many social-cosmetic devices be thought up as possible for as little money as possible, which the Negroes – slummy as they are – might fall for. There is then a Community Relations Service with the revealing task of “monitoring rising tensions between local police and the community they are supposed to serve(!)” (Time), and this service then appropriately informed the Miami Chief of Police early on that “relations” between the police and the blacks were deteriorating rapidly. Once the law enforcement officers have gotten their way again, you can now complain to anybody, and the police themselves are honest enough to admit that they are a club that doesn’t need to hire extra thugs:

“In some places, police departments use psychological testing to screen out applicants with sadistic tendencies.” (US News and World Reports).

The beatings are distributed without any emotional excesses, which, by the way, the rebellious Negroes can also take as an example.

The usefulness of black politicians for appeasing their brothers and sisters is now fully appreciated and gladly taken advantage of:

“White community leaders should have a close ongoing dialogue with minority spokespeople ... Otherwise, not much can be done in a crisis situation.” (US News and World Report)

but no one has any great illusions about the effectiveness of such a measure, or of any other. It is well known by now that

“today’s unrest in the ghettos can no longer be steered in a constructive direction by leaders”

and that when the Negro bosses show up there

“The only time we see y'all so-called leaders is when you come here trying to calm somebody down!”

This is, so to speak, inevitable, for otherwise they would not be Negro politicians and would not be allowed to count themselves among the better part of American society.

Whenever such examples and state reform measures are enumerated, it is with the gesture: Everything has been done, some things can’t be changed, so they must remain the way they are! All minor improvements in ghetto conditions, which are always improvements in state administration, are considered from the point of view that one should not get upset about the ghettoes, but regard them as normal. And black politicians confirm that they can be treated that way. For the USA, like in any other capitalist country, this “return to normalcy” means:

What becomes of you is up to you and if nothing becomes of you, this is by no means a reason for dissatisfaction – anyone who nevertheless feels and expresses anything else must be made aware of the state’s corresponding corrective measures. The whole prculiarty of the USA lies in the fact that the state – in agreement with its citizens – radically enforces this capitalist life wisdom by, on the one hand, letting the effects of competition have a drastic impact on the individual and, on the other hand, ensuring that threats to existence, violence and brutalization of those who have no place in this competition are banished to social enclaves. Success proves right. So Jimmy Carter jets to Miami on the capaign trail (after all, he owed his victory largely to black votes), but only to tell the voters there that the American government has no intention of changing anything about their situation – and if they want to be good Americans, they have to understand that.

This is the public declaration that barbarism belongs to a decent capitalism. And that it has other worries than constantly worrying about them.

“Today the optimism of the 60s has disappeared” [= it is no longer proper to spread any], “and there is little hope that the problems of the ghettos will be tackled again, let alone solved.... Broad impersonal[!] trends have converged to divert America’s attention from its ghettos. The energy crisis, the threat of growing Soviet military power and adventurism, the decline of the dollar and national productivity, the nation’s growing vulnerability in an increasingly complex world, the rise of inflation and the onset of recession – all have led to a reordering of national priorities.” (Time, 6/16)

Over and out. This is how domestic politics works in the United States.

Maybe it’s (not) a class struggle after all?

The left here does not allow itself to be undermined in its hope that American Negroes could get a few more heads bloodied in the course of the summer and thus prove that resistance a la USA is not quite over after all. The TAZ, for example, offers its readers two interpretations of the events of Miami. On the front page, the “uprising” is the “black population’s response to Carter’s economic program – higher spending on the arms industry at the expense of the majority of the population.” Even though these concerns have never been mentioned, what the hell – somebody in the USA must have something against Jimmy Carter’s imperialist schemes!

On the back pages, a certain Peter Tergeist then ventures a possible interpretation: Under the headline “Where is the black revolution?” he asks himself the sensible question why on earth are the Negroes constantly having ghetto uprisings, although

“all black organizations, bourgeois, separatist, Marxist, are against this form of struggle[!] ...Why is it, in fact, that the colored subproletariat is always rebelling spontaneously and en masse [great!], but does not allow itself to be organized into organizations of black radicalism [!], which would like to structure its potential for rebellion ideologically and direct it more strongly toward the political system as a whole?”

Yes, what might the reason for that be, dear Peter?! Maybe you should write a letter to this bunch of stupid subproles and tell them that it really isn’t acceptable to always run around in such an unstructured way when you are already so spontaneous and en masse. But maybe you’d rather leave it alone – after all, too much structure means ruining some of that beautiful spontaneity, doesn’t it? And especially when the organizations are against this form of struggle, i.e. they still – unlike you – don’t even understand it as an “attack on the commodity system per se”! Better to leave everything as it is.

The Communist League’s “Workers’ Struggle,” on the other hand, doesn’t really dare to make an assessment, but simply lets the events speak for themselves, true to the motto that where there is oppression, there is also resistance, and after all, you can see that, can’t you? Fortunately, they have also rounded up a few Negroes who see it that way, too:

“People were fighting with their backs against the wall. They decided to fight and use a method for making themselves heard that was very effective in the 60s.” (The results are well known) Or: “We need to organize the mass of our people to protest more effectively...” (Statements by “organizers and activists at the roots of the movement,” according to Workers’ Struggle, 6/2/80).

Anyone not convinced by this only needs to look at the historical review of 26 years of struggle. The Negroes have really never had it as bad as today.

Shot: Vernon Jordan, American, 45, black

Ending up as the victim of an assassination attempt is by no means unusual for an American politician. His own road to success is always paved with enough corpses, literally and figuratively, and so there is always someone who benefits from his death or who wants to take revenge on him. Nevertheless, it is not pure hypocrisy when the American public asks itself on the occasion of the assassination of the “black leader” Vernon Jordan: Why?

Of course, the question should really be: Why now? In the 60s this could have happened to him just like ML King, who was also a “rather moderate Negro leader.” Since he survived, he is now one of the “great unifying forces of the country.” In short, he is one of those to whom the civil rights movement has brought economic success and political influence. His partisanship for the black cause provided him, as a young lawyer, the opportunities from which white America excluded him. He fought successively to open universities to blacks, open voter rolls in the South, and jobs for blacks in the ghetto:

“My common sense tells me that the more people who work in this society, the better it is.” (Jordan)

He himself now works as a director of seven public companies, has a Fifth Avenue apartment, a Mercury driven by a (black?) chauffeur, expensive suits, wines and cigars, and on top of it all, the gall to pass off these assets as the means to advance the cause of his black brothers:

“Black power will remain nothing but a cry in the wilderness unless it is channeled into constructive efforts to wield political power and influence the established institutions of American politics.”

And when have they ever listened to a broke black man?!

So really no one can quite understand who could have an interest in killing this symbol of black success. Except the Klu Klux Klan, of course, whose members were immediately interrogated by the police. One of them could have been offended by the fact that Jordan was not averse to certain other privileges for which his black fellow Americans in some parts of the United States might still get a bloody head: He was in the company of an attractive blonde, divorced four times, with whom he had previously spent two hours in her apartment, “drinking coffee and chatting, Ms. Coleman told the police.” (Time, 9.6.) The reader knows what he is supposed to think – even the most enlightened American has the slimier sides of racism in him.

In any case, a nice opportunity to demonstrate unity: Carter found that the assassination attempt was somewhat ironic “because Jordan had spent his life fighting the causes of violence” – as if that, of all things, were a guarantee of life in the US or anywhere else in the world. Jesse Jackson took the opportunity to cast himself as a level-headed Negro leader, calling on nonexistent ill-tempered blacks to be calm and level-headed.

“We don’t want another 1968. We [?] need leadership. We need to respond to this crisis with jobs and justice.”

Which means the crisis is over. Jordan, by the way, can already walk again.