Capitalism and Racism are About Who Rules : Analyzing Power in the Here and Now

A demonstrator confronts law enforcement officers near Baltimore Police Department Western District to protest against the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, in Baltimore
“Even if the second flag of white rule (the ‘American’ flag being the first) eventually comes down, the racist system that produced the Confederacy remains upright.” Symbolism is important, but only if the forces behind the symbols are understood. The real question is: Who rules? “The Black Lives Matter movement is charting a direction that inevitably leads to a struggle for power.”

By Danny Haiphong

“What is needed is a serious discussion and analysis of power in relation to the character of the racist state of America.”

Much has been written following the white supremacist murder of nine Black Americans at the AME church in South Carolina on June 17th, 2015. The racist attack has further enraged Black America and its supporters, a rage that has become politically oriented in large part due to the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter movement has given expression to the fact that, for Black Americans in particular and all who experience the everyday violence of white supremacy, to live within the borders of its birthplace is to be in a constant state of rage. Since the tragic massacre at the AME church, many have demanded the Confederate flag be taken down. However, few have acted to assist the Black Lives Matter movement in challenging the power structure that produced it. Even if the second flag of white rule (the ‘American’ flag being the first) eventually comes down, the racist system that produced the Confederacy remains upright.

The Black Lives Matter Movement has sparked the first campaign to change this dynamic in decades. It has caught the attention of the Obama Administration and every channel of political power in the US imperialist state. On the one hand, Obama and the Democratic Party have been forced to comment on racism with crocodile tears and plead to the black community to maintain passive resistance. On the other, Obama and his surrogates in Washington have been forced to condemn the movement because it has exposed the role of the police as a force of occupation in the Black community. The nine Black lives that were lost inside of the Charleston church may not have been murdered by the police, but their lives were taken by an individual who was willing to rage ‘race war’ in defense of the system of power that the police protect. The massacre brings the question of power to the forefront, a question that the rulers of the current system want to desperately avoid.

But what exactly is power in the midst of the dead-end politics of US hegemony? The struggle for Black lives arose as a powerful acknowledgement that the last forty years of Mass Black Incarceration and capitalist assault has imposed conditions of social death on Black America accompanied by a near daily experience with state murder at the hands of the system’s protectors (police). This struggle has made its primary target the racist state, with a special focus on its armed occupation forces. What is needed is a serious discussion and analysis of power in relation to the character of the racist state of America. What is power? What does the struggle for power mean for oppressed people here and around the world? What is the system in question that creates conditions of racist repression?

“The massacre brings the question of power to the forefront.”

Power is the ability to determine and influence phenomena. More specifically, the struggle for power defines politics. In the US, the struggle for power manifests inside the confines of the rule of the rich, a system better known as capitalism. This system needs white supremacy to maintain and expand capitalist profit off the backs of Black people. Capitalism and racism are the foundation of the US. White America is given the right to be human and have their labor exploited at a lesser rate. This contradiction inevitably aligns most white Americans to the ruling system.

Profits under US capitalism are derived from the super exploitation of Black people, indigenous people, and of whoever the ruling class deems nonwhite at any given moment. This targeted exploitation supplants that experienced by the white working class. Surplus value is fundamental capitalism’s particular form of exploitation. It is defined as the extraction of value from a worker’s unpaid labor time. The primary motivation of the capitalist’s is to maximize profits, and thus increase surplus value produced by workers. This inevitably leads to the creation of a state capable of protecting their interests. In the US context, the state enforces the system of white supremacy and patriarchy to ensure social peace. However, contradictions are characteristic of any form of rule, including capitalism. As capitalist profits reach their limits in any given time and place, the system must expand, repress, or face the wrath of the exploited from which the system has relied on for its very survival. Power must be placed in this context of US development.

The massacre in South Carolina is a prime example of how white supremacy and capitalism define power within the colonial borders of the US. White supremacy is the reason why Dylan Roof was safely apprehended by the police for committing mass murder while Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice were killed by them for merely breathing. Such an irreconcilable contradiction can only be explained by a system of power that is designed to oppress Black people. While one should never separate the historical relationship between racism and capitalist exploitation, it is equally important to understand who is responsible for such a distribution of power. The question of who rules is essential to the development of a revolutionary consciousness and movement. Without an answer to this question, the miserable conditions of capitalism and racism lose context and meaning.

“White supremacy is the reason why Dylan Roof was safely apprehended by the police for committing mass murder while Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice were killed by them for merely breathing.”

Although white America and the state are heavily implicated in the US ruling system, it is the capitalist class that calls the shots. The capitalists, who make up only a tiny fraction of all of humanity, privately own much of the land, industry, and financial institutions tied to our survival. They are given powerful protection by the corporate media. Most people in the US are blinded by its daily assault on the truth. This is understandable given that five corporations control over 90 percent of US airwaves. But despite the depth of corporately controlled media in the US, the Black Lives Matter movement has shifted the political debate away from the dead-end talking points of politicians and hired pundits of the state and toward a serious analysis of how the police operate in the Black community. The Black Lives Matter movement is charting a direction that inevitably leads to a struggle for power. This struggle will help define what form the people’s movement against police brutality, racism, and economic plunder should take from here forward.

In this period of steep capitalist crisis and escalating fascist repression, struggles for symbolism only lead to dead-ends when questions of power go unanswered. Why are Black Americans murdered daily by the police? Why do they represent the most incarcerated people on the planet and possess the worst economic condition in the US? What is behind the covert and military ventures in Yemen, Syria, and NATO escalation along the Russian border? Why are unions declining, wages lowering, and social services being cut while the US military budget continues to maintain a bloated status and police departments and prisons remain a priority investment? These questions cannot be answered without a critical examination of power, of who has it and who doesn’t.

“Why are Black Americans murdered daily by the police?”

This examination should lead one to conclude that power in the US is in the hands of the same forces that destroyed indigenous communities and enslaved Africans to build the initial infrastructure of American-style capitalism. Whether one traces US imperialism’s counterinsurgency warfare on the peoples of Syria or the murder of Black Americans by the police, expansion and profit remain the primary motivations. These motivations serve the ever shrinking global ruling class led by Washington’s masters on Wall Street. White supremacy has maintained this order by enlisting a global white minority (now somewhat replaced by jihadists and neo-colonial mercenaries) as foot soldiers for Empire who gladly terrorizes the planet for the promise, realized or unrealized, of a small piece of capitalist spoils and the ability to dominate entire peoples with impunity.

So even if Dylan Roof faces prison time and the Confederate flag comes down, neither of these actions will stop the rule of the rich and all that has been erected to protect it. The decisive question of power, one all too overlooked under the misguidance of two-party clown shows and corporate media deception, must materialize into a movement that realizes that we need to create a crisis of our own. White supremacy and capitalism will continue to create political and economic crises at our expense. Only a revolutionary, people’s movement that interrupts and stops the institutional practices of this system will bring the foundations of power tumbling down.

Danny Haiphong is an organizer for Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) in Boston. He is also a regular contributor to Black Agenda Report. Danny can be reached at wakeupriseup1990@gmail.com and FIST can be reached at bostonfist@gmail.com.