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50 Years Ago: Los Angeles Erupts

For a few days the spotlight was switched from the ever present horror of Vietnam and focussed on the United States itself.

Los Angeles, that most modern of cities - if such an outdated word as city can be used to describe a sprawl of over 452 square miles - erupted into violence. In an orgy of looting, arson and killing the Negro population, so often the victims of mob violence, themselves became the mob. The savage details were too well reported to need repeating, but many thousands of troops were needed to crush what amounted to a rebellion. When it was over, needless to say the Negroes were the worst-hit victims.

The suppression of the Negro, lasting for a hundred years after their "liberation," ranging from murder to petty discrimination, and running through all strata of society, has produced a distrust and hatred that will take a very long time to overcome. At every moment and in every possible way, the Negro is made to feel inferior.

Such a situation, and the fact that it could be changed, must lead to an explosion. Los Angeles has been a modern legend, that personifies the so-called affluent society, the world of mass-produced commodities in profusion. Brash and ugly, a mass of sprawling suburbs and six-lane freeways where public transport has practically disappeared, the Watts-Willowbrook area where the explosion occurred is known as the Black Ghetto. Can anything illustrate the plight of the American Negro more than the use of this medieval word to describe the conditions of workers in an ultramodern city?

The riot was crushed, but as long as hatred between workers remains on such a scale and is added to the normal tensions and frustrations of capitalism, such eruptions will continue.

(from News in Review, Socialist Standard, October 1965)