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Poor People’s (ongoing) Campaign

The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination was covered widely in mainstream media last month. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial equality through nonviolent resistance. For the last five years of his life, King was subject to scrutiny by the FBI. J Edgar Hoover was concerned about ‘communist’ infiltration of civil rights groups and unions but proof proved elusive. Baptist minister King had apparently read some of Marx’s writings and did not like his materialism, but such influences can be seen here: ‘the profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be making a living than making a life.’ He even stated ‘the fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad,’ yet rather than seeking to replace capitalism with socialism he campaigned for reforms to restructure it – e.g. he strived for a universal basic income as well as end to ‘overpopulation’. Days after his death Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in housing basis of race, religion, or national origin. Decades later, Obama’s ‘change’ meant business as usual. Today, racism is waxing not waning, 40 million Americans live in poverty, the top 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, and ‘just 1 in 10 black Americans believe civil rights movement’s goals have been achieved in the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was killed’ (theindependent.co.uk, 31 March). And this, from Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer winning historian, says it all (probably unwittingly) : ‘all the issues that he raised toward the end of his life are as contemporary now as they were then’ (nytimes.com, 4 April). Dr. King focused famously on the ‘Triple Evils’ of poverty, racism and militarism, i.e., symptoms rather than the underlying disease.

Poverty without end

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela died the same week as the anniversary of King’s death. Media reaction was, unlike to that of Dr. King, very mixed. ‘Winnie was working as a hospital social worker when she realized the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live in, created by the inequalities of the system. It is from this point that she strived to bring change and equality’ (standardmedia.co.ke, 3 April). She married Nelson Mandela several years prior to the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 (289 murdered). Established in 1912, the African National Congress had employed largely non-violent means in its campaign to secure voting rights for non-white Africans, but this changed in 1961 with the formation of an armed wing. When Nelson was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, the South African state punished Winnie too. She was beaten, tortured and held in solitary confinement. Andrew Malone writes as if she deserved such treatment, describing her as ‘an odious, toxic individual who continued to preach hatred rather than reconciliation right up to the end of her life’ (dailymail.co.uk, 3 April). Yet for a woman accused of murder, fraud, kidnapping and theft, comments from the South African Human Rights Commission in an article titled A tribute to Madikizela-Mandela: ‘A true revolutionary is guided by great love’ (thetimeslive.co.za, 3 April) seem equally over the top. No, the most apposite remarks were made earlier by another and anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu: ‘They stopped the gravy train just long enough to get on themselves.’ He went on to say that Zuma’s administration is ‘worse than the apartheid government’ and that he would ‘pray for the downfall of the ANC.’ ‘More than two decades after South Africa ousted a racist apartheid system that trapped the vast majority of South Africans in poverty, more than half the country still lives below the national poverty line and most of the nation’s wealth remains in the hands of a small elite’ (npr.org, 2 April).

One world, one people

Nothing should be allowed to obscure working class unity nor to hamper its struggle to set up the new social order. We know enough of racism, and of what it does to human beings, to reject it as a destructive, anti-social force. There is a better way; we have a world to win and little time to lose’ (Racist myths, Socialist Standard, June 1988).

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