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The Day That Makes Twenty Years

When talking about the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion, probably 90% of the American people would immediately reply that it was caused by the not-guilty verdict rendered in favor of the Los Angeles police who were video-taped beating Rodney King. Such an answer would be like saying the forest fire was caused by a person throwing a lit cigarette into the underbrush. These acts were catalysts rather than causes.

The cause of the rebellion is to be found in the changing economic and social relations of Los Angeles and throughout the country. Automated production is replacing and pushing a section of the working class out of bourgeois relations of production. These new part-time, unemployed, minimum-wage and temporary workers form a new class at society’s edges. Computerized control opened the door to shift production to the lowest-wage areas of the world. Opening the neo-colonies national boundaries to financial investment and industrial production destroyed the subsistence economies and unsettled literally millions of workers, who then migrated to foreign countries, including the United States.The social unrest was wide and deep in such cities as Los Angeles. The L.A cops feared and hated this unstable and unruly new section of the population. That fear and hatred was returned with interest. L.A. held a large number of this new class. They were black, white, Asian, Native American, Mexican and Central American. They were united by the fact that they were outside of and oppressed by bourgeois society and its property relations. In a word, by 1990 this new class was an uprising looking for a place to happen.

The Los Angeles rebellion will be remembered as the opening round of revolution by the new class created by robotics. The uprising, its multi-racial character, its stubborn resistance to the State forces meant that all the elements of social revolution were in place and functioning.

Social revolution has two phases. The first is the destruction of the existing society. The second is reconstruction of a new society. The destruction phase has two aspects, the objective and the subjective. The objective side is carried out by the introduction of electronics, undercutting wage- labor, which is the foundation of existing society. The age of electronics, eliminating the industrial working class, brings to birth a new class. The subjective side is the rejection of existing society by this new class. It is not possible to overthrow a society which you respect and whose laws you obey. The rebellion was contemptuous of anything smacking of bourgeois law, order or property relations. In this respect, the real world taught the combatants more than the revolutionaries did.

The uprising was not a second edition of the 1965 Watts uprising. The Watts uprising fully integrated the struggle of the African Americans into the world wide struggle of the colonial peoples against United States imperialism. By doing so, it completed and spelled the beginning of the end to the era of national liberation struggles. The rebellion of 1992 ushered in a new era, the era of class struggle and class revolution.

Historical Background

The mechanization of Southern agriculture during the early 1950s was an economic revolution that allowed for the completion of the social revolution of 1864. The hangovers of slavery that lived on because of the sharecropping system were finished off by the freedom struggles that followed this economic revolution.

Massive migrations from the rural South to the industrial areas began in 1939 with the shift to a war economy and the ending of the depression. These migrations accelerated during the 1950s. This was a period of “tractoring” the blacks off the land, but also a period of rapid industrial expansion. Poverty among blacks fell from 92 percent in 1939 to 30 percent in 1974. By 1980 over half the black population of the country lived in 29 metropolitan areas. These facts indicate the rapid proletarianization of the black masses.

By 1974 the electronic revolution began wiping out the unskilled and semi-skilled sector of industrial labor. This was the area where the recently arrived black workers were concentrated. At the same time the post-war economic expansion had begun to grind to a halt. It appeared that the wholesale lay-offs of black workers was solely from the standpoint of race. Actually, the workings of the seniority system along with the elimination of numerous unskilled and semi-skilled categories of jobs was sufficient cover for any racist selection of workers to be permanently laid off.

Whole sectors of industry were wiped out, and with them, their workers. Unemployment and poverty grew rapidly. Poverty among the black workers was the vanguard of a new and permanent poverty of the class. The national poverty rate of 11 percent during the 1970s jumped to 14.5 percent by 1990 despite the constant redefining of poverty in order to lower the numbers. Using the 1972 criteria, some 70 million Americans were in poverty in 1992.  Black poverty was (and is) concentrated and visible in the inner cities, but it was less than one third of national poverty. Only 36 percent of white poverty was urban. The rest was scattered and rural, but it will be heard from. The black workers, as workers, bore the brunt of the economic downturn. Racism made their new economic condition even more unacceptable.

Stating the Problem

A social system is the unity of the productive forces and the society built around them. It is not possible to change one without changing the other. The combination of the shift to production by electronics plus the shift of manufacturing to the world’s lowest paying labor markets had created a world commodity market, including a world labor market. These changes pushed the international market price of unskilled labor in America far below the cost of production. It became impossible for a sector of workers to sell their labor-power at a living wage. No one could buy it at the cost of production and stay in business.

Young workers were especially hit hard. Those working at jobs that paid below the poverty level rose 22.9 percent in 1979 to 43.4 percent in 1990.  Taking the working class as a whole, one in five workers worked full-time at jobs that paid below the poverty level. Add those at the poverty line and those slightly above the line, and also add the millions who barely existed on part time employment, and the outlines of economic, social and political crisis were clear. The economically lowest, most unstable sector of the class faced starvation without a social welfare system that provided at least the minimum of cultural and physical needs.

The administrations of Reagan and Bush transferred billions of dollars from social services to industry under the guise of bringing American industrial output to a competitive level with Germany and Japan. Most of that money went into speculation and gambling on the stock market. By 1990, the top 1 percent of the population was worth more than the bottom 90% combined. Under such conditions, to characterize the uprisings as a “race riot” not only reveals the ideology of racism, but plays into the hands of the enemy.

The uprising was the first social response, the first indication of social revolution resulting from the historic changes that were taking place in the productive forces. In 1992, this process was just beginning, but it has continued, giving rise to waves of social response as the impact of these changes have spread and deepened. Far from a race riot, the chain of State control broke at its weakest link.

The uprising was joined by Latino and white workers who were in the same economic category as the Black fighters. At the beginning of the uprising, at least half of the demonstrators were white and Hispanic. During the first week after the verdict, 835 whites were arrested along with 3517 Hispanics and 2564 Blacks. The death toll also reflects this fact. This time the African Americans did not feel alone in their fight against the State. The participation of Hispanics and whites provided a foundation for ideological projections of unity and class.

The American people expressed a new hatred for the exploiters who had forced them into poverty over the previous decade. Bribery and racism had distorted the process. With the rebellion, it came out into the open. The crisis was not simply the catastrophic drop in the standard of living. It included the ideological development arising from much publicized looting of the public treasury through the Savings and Loans scandals and the defense contracts, real estate and financial scams of the 1980s. The ideology of the people slowly began responding to the social reality.

The political think-tanks of the ruling class were very much aware of the seriousness of the crisis. Although they could not foresee the exact form the beginnings of the social revolution would take, the ruling class was well prepared for the attempt to contain it. Throughout the 1990s, constitutional protections were gutted, the police militarized, and after 9/11 the police were increasingly integrated with Homeland Security, and an array of laws further gutted U.S. constitutional protections. Obama’s National Defense Act has taken this to yet another level, allowing the government to detain anyone indefinitely whom they accuse of being a “terrorist.”

The next step

Violence in the streets always ushers in a new era. Intense political activity flows from one stage of fighting and prepares the way for the next. Once the stage of fighting subsides, the next step has to be clarified and proceed from the class content of the fight.

The uprising was the day that makes twenty years. The dialectical processes of economic revolution and social revolution have been joined. With the uprising, we left one era and entered another. Revolutionaries must seize upon what is new and arising. Revolutionaries must strive to bring all the most oppressed and exploited together on the basis of activity regardless of color or nationality.  The slow, objective motion toward class identification must be taken up and developed at all cost.

March/April 2012. Vol22.Ed2
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
P.O. Box 477113 Chicago, IL 60647 rally@lrna.org
Free to reproduce unless otherwise marked.
Please include this message with any reproduction.

Photo of Protest

30,000 March in Support of
Chicago Teachers Union Strike
Photo by Ryan L Williams
used with permission

The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.

'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011

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Rally, Comrades! is the political paper of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America. If you are one of the thousands of revolutionaries around the country looking for a perspective on the problems we face today, and for a political strategy to achieve the goal of a world free from exploitation and poverty, then Rally, Comrades! is for you.

Rally, Comrades! examines and analyzes the real problems of the revolutionary movement, and draws political conclusions for the tasks of revolutionaries at each stage of the revolutionary process. We reach out to revolutionaries wherever they may be to engage in debate and discussion, and to provide a forum for these discussions. Rally, Comrades! provides a strategic outlook for revolutionaries by indicating and illuminating the line of march of the revolutionary process.

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