The following article was first published in Proletarian Revolution No. 57 (Summer/Fall 1998). For more information on this subject, please see our pamphlet, Armed Self-Defense and the Revolutionary Program.
On June 7th, an innocent Black man, James Byrd Jr., was tortured, murdered, beheaded and dismembered by racist scum in Jasper, Texas. The first reaction was enormous shock in the Black communities across the country. This gave way to fear – and to a deep, wrenching anger.
The rage escalated in response to the KKK “celebration” in Jasper on June 27, which proclaimed that “This is Klan country, has been Klan country and will be Klan country from now on.”
There was a different response from the powers-that-be – a tidal wave of sound bytes flooding TV and radio, expressing the “grief and horror” so “deeply felt” by the bourgeois politicians and their hired Madison Avenue flacks. Through its outpouring of crocodile tears, the ruling class was proclaiming itself to have nothing to do with this racist atrocity. Once again it was pretending that Blacks had a sympathetic friend in the capitalist state power.
Once upon a time, the hopes of Black America in the promises of “American democracy” were high. The victories won during the civil rights movement and the ghetto revolts gave rise to expectations that equal treatment could become a reality. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a colorblind United States resonated among many. Today, such hopes have been dashed. Blacks, whose labor built so much of this country are still discriminated against, barely tolerated and even savagely killed under this system of exploitation and racism, i.e., capitalism. In fact, things are getting worse. But what can be done?
The answer is socialist revolution. It is not a question of small groups of revolutionaries lecturing the masses about what is to be done. The job of revolutionaries is to consistently put forward the basic elements of our revolutionary program and show how this program is intimately connected to building a revolutionary party to lead the fight to overthrow capitalism. This the LRP has done through our propaganda, and agitation when possible, for mass armed self-defense against racist and fascist attacks.
While urban Blacks do not yet face the fascist boot, they do face the constant danger of the cops, the armed fist of the ruling class and its state. The inhuman injuries inflicted on Abner Louima, the systematic bludgeoning of Rodney King, and the many big-city cop murders certainly testify to the fact that racist horrors are not confined to out-of-the-way Texas towns. They are an omen of future pogroms that will sweep the country if armed mass self-defense as part of a revolutionary movement is not mobilized in time.
As the capitalist crisis inevitably deepens and joblessness grows, murderous racism will spread like wildfire unless it is massively confronted. As society polarizes, the ruling class will inevitably turn to the Klan and its ilk. For the sake of profit, the capitalists and their mercenaries will blame Blacks, Latinos, Jews, immigrants and the like in the search for scapegoats.
History shows that the proletariat and oppressed peoples will inevitably need their own defense guards, a workers’ militia. Such a force can only be created if it is rooted in the industrial working class and spearheaded by the revolutionary vanguard. A long-term organized self-defense will not be built overnight, but it will never be built unless the need for it is shown in word and deed today.
The current Black leadership responded to Jasper by repeating its usual pacifist pieties. Given the vacuum of leadership, it is no surprise that a reactionary posturer like Khalid Muhammad could momentarily seize the limelight by advocating armed self-defense. His demagogic game-playing can only backfire on Black America; it is no substitute for a serious defense in the face of racist attacks.
The problem is not only the capitulations of the liberal and nationalist Black leaders. It is also the failure of the far left, white and Black, to propagandize for and, when appropriate, help organize working-class Black self-defense in the face of brutal attacks. The so-called revolutionary left talks and talks about the necessity for building an alternative. But when it comes to a hard fighting line that would differentiate it from the liberals and their labor lieutenants, it offers next to nothing.
Ad hoc defense guards against today’s racist and anti-working class attacks can be the embryos of the future workers’ militia. Black struggles in the late ‘50’s and ‘60’s showed the effectiveness of short-term armed defense guards like the southern Deacons for Defense and Robert F. Williams’ armed defense units in Monroe, North Carolina. Tragically, the martyrdom of James Byrd Jr. will not be the last vicious racist bloodletting.
Specific attacks and provocations demand immediate mobilizations. While the ruling class sheds tears for its victims, it much prefers victims to fighters. It is past time for revolutionary-minded workers to group together and take the lead in convincing the masses of the need to defend themselves. That is why we who fight to re-create the interracialist and internationalist vanguard party of the proletariat inscribe on our banners the need for Mass Working-Class Armed Self-Defense!