The killing of Mike Brown and Eric Garner at police hands has provoked a mass movement against state racism in the US. The Socialist spoke to L. Eljeer Hawkins, a US socialist, who will be speaking in Belfast and Derry on the Anniversary of Malcolm X’s murder.
What does the events in Ferguson and New York say about Obama’s America?
We have had six years of the Obama administration and African American communities still have the highest level of poverty and unemployment. They are 21 times more likely to suffer from police violence than a white person. We have to see this in the context of Obama deporting more immigrants than any other president. He can’t deal with this crisis as it is a systemic question – it’s a question of capitalism. Obama’s United States has seen increased accumulation of wealth to Wall Street, to the 0.1%, while the 99% continues to struggle on a daily bases on low wages.
In Ferguson, you had a cocktail of poverty, unemployment, low wages and then this murder of a young man. That deadly cocktail led to this mass explosion. Obama is paralysed particularly given the strong vote that has come from the African American population due to the historic allegiance and lack of political alternative. Malcolm X talks about this when he says “we put the democrats first and they put us last.” You can’t serve two masters; you can’t rhetorically talk about the poor and serve Wall Street on the other hand.
What is the role of the socialists in the fight against racism in the US?
Firstly, we have to defend the democratic gains and rights that have been won. The recent film Selma is about the campaign to enact the Voters Right Act of 1965 that was ushered in by a powerful civil rights movement. That act has been gutted of some of the key provisions that allowed federal oversight of states that had gerrymandering and voter suppression.
The #blacklivesmatter movement is an affirmation of the humanity of people of colour that have been rendered disposable by the system. We have to say as long as power remains in the hands of the 1% we will have to come back to this struggle every day, every month and every year. We will come back to the same questions, be it voting rights, discrimination or for equal pay for equal work. This equally applies to the fight against the police violence, which is an outgrowth of the crisis of capitalism. With the system in many way trying to make it clear that they are prepared to go to full tilt in order to defend their interest.
The role of socialists is not to just accept piecemeal reforms but to see the need to go further. Martin Luther King recognised this in his later years. The Civil Rights Act has benefited the black middle class but it has not solved any of the problems of social inequality. King realised that in order to end racial injustice but also economic exploitation we have to challenge capitalism and move towards democratic socialism.
In that context, how relevant are the ideas and life of Malcolm X for the struggle today?
At the core of Malcolm’s political work is an analysis of capitalism and what that system breeds. Obviously particularly Racism, which is not innate in anyone but is socialised and constructed in the schools, workplace, music and corporate media. Malcolm at his most brilliant was able to unmask the hypocrisy of “American democracy” and highlight that racism is etched into the DNA of American capitalism.
He also provided a fuller internationalist perspective to the struggle and saw the need to learn from other revolutionary movements. At an Oxford debate in 1974 he said “you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change“. He saw the need for a universal approach to the struggle and the key was the youth, of all colours, in a struggle against a violent capitalist system.