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February, 2006

African Americans: Again at the center of the fight for a new world

Auto workers protesting in Detroit in January There is no African American history apart from American history just as there is no American history apart from African American history. Understanding African American history requires understanding American history and vice versa. It has often been stated that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to re-live it. As we celebrate African American History month, it is worthwhile to learn from history if we are to avoid re-living some of America's most terrible moments.

One hundred fifty years ago, America was sliding into a classical social-political crisis. Previously, the North's economy depended upon the economy of the slave owning, agrarian south. The North transported slaves from Africa, manufactured the goods needed by the Southern economy and transported the money making cotton to the mills of Europe. The South was some 20 percent richer than the North and almost everyone seemed satisfied with an arrangement that rested upon the brutal exploitation of the African slave.

New means of production, the steam engine, revolutionized society. As industry replaced manufacturing, the productive capacity of the North outran the consuming capacity of the South. There was more money to be made by industrial production for the world market than by agricultural production. The slaveholders began to lose their economic supremacy, and the election of Lincoln signified the beginnings of an end to their political supremacy. The slaveholders moved to protect their economic interest by rebelling, forming the Confederate States of America as a military-fascist dictatorship and attempting to win on the battlefield what was lost at the ballot box. The struggle of the African Americans against slavery was the political heart of that world historic conflict.

What are the lessons to be learned and how do we avoid re-living that history?

At the end of World War II, Europe and Asia faced starvation, their productive forces destroyed by war. American productive capacity had increased four times during the war and America had sole possession of the Atom bomb. The monopolists of America saw an opportunity to create an "American Century." They moved swiftly, entangling Europe, Africa, South America, parts of Asia and the Middle East in a web of economic and military dependencies. The result was unprecedented profits for the American imperialists and the country moved from a nation where, in 1939 "one third of the people were ill fed, ill housed and ill clothed" to the highest standard of living in the world. It seemed that American domination of the world was permanent.

As in the immediate pre-Civil War era new, more efficient means of production are upsetting the world order. The balance of economic power has begun to shift to the East. The growing impoverishment of the American masses threatens to politicize them. Forced onto the defensive at home and abroad, the American Empire is becoming more aggressive. As their political underpinning is destroyed, they are moving to create a fascist-military dictatorship to stabilize their rule. Their basic tactic is to accelerate the transfer of social wealth from the poor to the rich and continue to weaken them politically. The developing offensive against the nation's poor has the African American poor as its central target since they are the most isolated and vulnerable sector. In the struggle for civil rights they were targeted because they were black and poor. Today they are targeted because they are poor and black.

It took several years of bloody warfare before the North realized that they would have to destroy slavery in order to defeat the slave power. We must grasp now that doing away with poverty and stopping the corporations from imposing a fascist dictatorship requires converting privately owned, socially necessary corporations and means of production into public property. Only a class conscious, self conscious, united, politicized American people can accomplish this. The struggle begins with the defense of the poor and that begins with an offensive to guarantee the social and political equality of the African American poor. Again, the African Americans are at the heart of a world historic struggle.


This article originated in the People's Tribune
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