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Juneteenth 2019: ‘Bottom Rail on Top this Time!’

During the U.S. Civil War, a formerly enslaved African American Union soldier, upon seeing his former “master” with other captured Confederate soldiers said, “Hello, massa, bottom rail on top this time.” The Civil War was a revolution that ended with the greatest redistribution of wealth the world had ever known, expropriating $4 billion in slaves as property, and returning it to the formerly enslaved themselves. That war would not have been won without the joint efforts of white Union soldiers and Black Union soldiers (many of whom were recently
freed slaves).

But, unlike the Civil War, where the overthrow of Reconstruction led to the virtual re-enslavement of African Americans, today the ruling class has declared war on workers of all colors and national origins. Today is different and the workers can win for good this time, because a new class of workers is being created by the growth of labor-replacing technology in the production process. The new class has been pushed out of the current economy and requires a new society with distribution based on need. The political unity of the new class is necessary to obtain the political power to reconstruct society. To play its historic role, the development of the political consciousness of the new class is of utmost importance.

Equality of Poverty Offers Hope for Revolution

About 140 million people in the U.S. live in families with insufficient income to meet their basic needs, such as food, housing, and health care. So many people are suffering because decent paying jobs with benefits are becoming rare. At the same time, safety net programs are being withdrawn, accompanied by State efforts to demonize those who need them. This was seen in the recent wrestling to the floor of young mother Jazmine Headley, with babe in arms, by security guards in a public assistance office, and the wrenching of migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. All members of the new class are facing a deteriorating standard of living that is making it hard to survive.

For much of U.S. history, a material bribe, in the form of better jobs, salaries, and housing opportunities, was provided to some workers as a political tactic to create a loyal mass base for the ruling class. This bribed sector was predominantly, though not exclusively, white. Such bribery was justified by vicious propaganda, dividing workers along the lines of color, nationality, religion, and immigration status.

Today, robotic production and sophisticated computer programs are permanently eliminating more jobs than they can create, step-by-step eliminating both the industrial-era working class and the system in which it developed. We are witnessing the emergence of a new class, a section of workers being pushed outside the economy, hence beyond any material bribe. Their very survival is at risk until society is reorganized to distribute the social product according to need, instead of according to the ability to pay.

African Americans have suffered profoundly and disproportionately from the revolution of labor-replacing production under the policies of the ruling class. They were often the last hired, due to past discrimination in training and hiring and, therefore, the first fired when factories were automated, placing African Americans at the core of the developing new class.

In the continued gaps between the economic status of Black and white families today, we see reflected the legacy of slavery and the super-exploitation of the Southern worker, which set the basis for bribery and inequality. In 2016, African Americans and Latinos earned a median household income of $38,555 and $46,882, respectively, compared to a white median household income of $63,155. The poverty rate is almost 24 percent for African Americans but 10 percent for white Americans. While inequality among different segments of the working class still exists, the direction is towards equality of poverty among the new class of workers being expelled from the economy, as a result of digital technology applied to production.

Indicators of health and well-being provide additional evidence that the gap is closing between Black and white workers. Over the past 15 years, white Americans have experienced rising rates of suicide, drug overdose, and poor mental health. Although today’s rate of Black incarceration is 6.4 times that of whites, it is also true that since 2000 the imprisonment rate among African-American women has dropped 47 percent, while the rate among white women has risen by 56 percent, shrinking the racial disparity in women’s imprisonment by two-thirds. The rate of incarceration among African-American men remains high but has decreased by 22 percent since 2000, while the rate for white men went up four percent. The number of fatal shootings by law enforcement is on pace to hit nearly 1,000 for the fourth year in a row, and Black victims were twice as likely to be unarmed as whites. However, although the rate by which Blacks are killed by police is still higher than for whites, the number of whites killed is higher.

The growing equality of poverty of the new class is creating the foundation for political unity of the class that is becoming a threat to the system of private property, which refuses to provide for its basic needs. In response, the State is forced to attack broader segments of the new class to defend private property.

Ruling Class Efforts to Stop Unity

A politically united working class will challenge the power of the ruling class. Messages that foment division and blame working people’s problems on our class sisters and brothers are highlighted rather than the actual cause – the system of private property. The ruling class is drawing upon the worst aspects of American history, including white supremacy, to sacrifice bourgeois democracy and put in place a new fascist State to maintain its control nationwide. This includes the cultivation of a social base to consolidate and support fascist rule.

President Trump loudly condemned football players for kneeling to protest police murders of unarmed Black people, and he wrote an executive order to separate babies from parents at the Mexico-U.S. Border. He refers to asylum-seeking Central American migrants as “invaders,” but has refused to condemn unequivocally white supremacists or murders of unarmed people by police. This is meant to divide us. The popularity of President Trump’s nationalist rhetoric among some segments of the working class, the increase in white supremacist groups and hate crimes against African Americans, Jews, and others since 2014, suggests the growth of a fascist social base. While the form of the attacks is usually white supremacy, the actual purpose is to prevent the new class from uniting and threatening the system of ruling class private property.

Divide and conquer is a longtime tactic of the U.S. ruling class to hide the nature of class oppression and prevent unity among workers. Before the 1700s, African and European indentured servants and slaves made love, married, lived as neighbors and liked or disliked each other according to personality, not skin color. They also rebelled and ran away together, which needed to be crushed for the ruling class to maintain its power. The concept of race is a political construction created, reinforced and used by the ruling class to justify slavery and divide people with the same class interests under capitalism. Racial ideology was used again when there was an opportunity for real democracy following the Civil War.

The industrial economy of the North still needed the raw materials provided by the agricultural economy of the South, and therefore still needed slave-like conditions. African Americans and poor whites found themselves tied to the land of the former slaveowners. Approximately two-thirds of all sharecroppers were white. But, 85 percent of all Black farmers in Mississippi in 1900 did not own the land they farmed, compared to 36 percent of all white farmers. For African Americans, the tie to sharecropping was enforced by Black Codes, Jim Crow segregation laws, and the violent terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. Between 1882-1968, there were 4,743 lynchings in the United States. Of those who were lynched, 3,446 or 73 percent were Black. Many of the 1,297 whites lynched were lynched for helping Black people or for being anti-lynching. Thus, poor whites were again encouraged to identify with the white rulers, in return for the benefit and the increased safety of not being Black.

See the World as it is 

Our class needs to see the world as it truly is, not as the ruling class wants us to see it. The truth is that by uniting on our common class interests, the workers can defeat the plans of the ruling class. The truth is that we need and can have, a cooperative economic system that provides for all, compatible with the new technologies. Achieving this is the program of the new class. The truth is the digital revolution is eliminating the need for human labor in production and creating a new class of workers, who are marginally employed or permanently unemployed. According to research from Oxford University, about 47 percent of jobs will be replaced by computer automation by 2034. The new class – a new section of the working class, is outside of private property relations and has no stake in them. Only with a revolution, that brings into alignment the way the necessities of life are distributed with the way they are produced, can the new class survive.

The truth is that the history of the political construction of race and the bribe explain the relative economic position of African Americans today. However, the elimination of jobs by labor-replacing technology is closing the poverty gap among workers of different colors in the new class. The new class can break free of centuries of thinking that ignores our common bonds of class, if revolutionaries fight for this understanding. The abundance that can be provided by today’s advanced technology will be shared in the interests of all of humanity and the earth. Together, we will fulfill the vision of the freed slave, bottom rail on top this time!

May/June 2019. vol.29. Ed3
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

email: rally@lrna.org
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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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