By Peter McGregor
Black History Month within schools and in the media is almost completely tokenistic and doesn’t really delve into black history or the many struggles against slavery and oppression of black people. Yet, for those serious about defeating racism today, it is incredibly important to look back at some trailblazing struggles led by people of colour.
Black Lives Matter
One historic struggle is happening right now – the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. BLM began in 2014 after the racist police murder of black teenager Michael Brown Jr in Ferguson, Missouri. His murder sparked a wave of protests in Ferguson, but also all across the US and internationally. The current wave of BLM protests erupted after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which ignited an international mood against systemic racism. Since then, protests have continued in a way which we haven’t seen before, with waves of protests appearing after almost every police murder of a person of colour.
Those opposed to this uprising try to put a wall between it and the earlier civil rights struggles. In reality, it is a continuation of those struggles which – by mobilising black workers and poor alongside other workers, and particularly young people – were able to strike blows against racist discrimination in the US. Many of the leaders of that movement – including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, who was assassinated while giving his support to striking sanitation workers – began to draw the connection between racism and the capitalist system itself.
The revolution in Haiti (previously San Domingo) is another example of an inspirational struggle of black people that is rarely discussed in schools and so on. In 1790, the ‘Mulattoes’ – children of slaves who had been raped by their ‘owners’, who themselves owned property and slaves – revolted against the French colonialists, which was followed by a revolt of the slaves themselves in 1791. In 1792, the French ruling class agreed to grant more rights to the Mulattoes, but as black Marxist thinker CLR James wrote, “All these slave owners, French nobility and French bourgeoisie, colonial aristocrats and Mulattoes, were agreed that the slave revolt should be suppressed and the slaves remain in their slavery.” However, the slaves did not give in and fought against the French ruling class and the Mulattoes for their own rights.
In 1793, the British invaded Haiti and, along with the Spanish, started claiming the island as their own, eventually carving it up between them. However, in 1794 during the French revolution, it was announced by those fighting against the aristocracy that the enslavement of black people would be abolished. This news filtered through to San Domingo and other French West Indies islands. Inspired by this news and led by Toussaint Louverture, a former slave, the black population delivered a striking defeat to the imperialist powers and continually pushed back Britain’s attempts to reinvade. In 1804, Haiti was declared the world’s first independent, black republic.
History of struggle rich in lessons
The capitalist class will never fully invest into Black History Month and will by no means allow an end to oppression and inequality. Learning about the history of black struggle – past and present – is crucial for socialists. From the fight against slavery and the opposition to segregation, to the current BLM movement – these struggles can provide many lessons to assist in the fight against racism today and the capitalist system in which it is rooted.