First Published: Challenge, Vol. II, No. 6 August 24, 1965
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The revolt of the black people of Los Angeles against generations of misery, indignity, and police terror, marks the total failure of Johnson’s phony “Great Society” to provide the jobs and dignity an angry people demand. This heroic rebellion demonstrates the unworkability of a system based on acquiring super-profits through racism and war.
In the Watts ghetto, like many other black ghettos around the country, unemployment is at 35 percent and half the families are on welfare.
Despite all the attention given to the terrible living conditions of the people after the uprisings in Harlem, Rochester, Philadelphia, and other cities last year, there have been no improvements. The Johnson Administration tossed out a few crumbs namely slogans about the “war on poverty,” but in fact is waging a war on the poor people. Low wages, slum housing, and the other components of racism are capitalism’s biggest sources of profit The 35 dead, the 900 injured black people, and the 3,800 jailed hostages are the latest victims in this war.
As the fake “war on poverty” fools fewer and fewer people every day, the Johnson Administration steps up the war in Vietnam, hoping to crush that liberation movement and at the same time feed more profits into the already super-profitable war industries at home.
But the Los Angeles revolt has frightened the rulers of the U.S., because it demonstrates that the black masses decisively reject having to choose between welfare or warfare. “Our people want jobs not relief. There’s no future in relief,” said one black worker.
The anger of the unemployed, of families condemned to welfare, speaks through the slogan of the rebels: “Burn, brother, burn.” Burn the symbols of oppression, the pawn shops and Credit stores; let the people get back some little bit of what they have worked for, and of what has been systematically robbed from them.
“This is the Negro Revolution. We want the world to know. We want to set a fire right here on Broadway rather than go to Vietnam and fight We’d rather fight for the Negro here.”
The message comes through loud and clear to the “welfare” warriors in Washington. It means that the oppressed black people of our country do not want to fight against their oppressed brothers in Vietnam, Santo Domingo or elsewhere. The rebellion serves an angry notice on LBJ from black men who are being drafted into an imperialist army: “We have a war to fight for our lives, rights and dignity at home. We will not fight against our brothers around the world.”
The newspaper headlines about Los Angeles, that read just like the war stories from Vietnam, drive home the message. Los Angeles is another key front of the world-wide war of liberation. The Johnson Administration is scared because Watts is the home front, because the war of liberation fought by the people of Vietnam is also being fought by the black people of America, against the same enemy.
It mirrors the future, when hundreds of thousands of Americans will be forced to defend themselves from paid ruling class mercenaries.
The newspapers and politicians try to conceal the real facts – the killing of 35 blacks and the wounding of 900 more by an occupation army – with the cry of “black terror!” They are using this slogan to frighten white workers into believing that the black people rather than the Johnson Administration is their real enemy. This same “big he” technique, perfected by Hitler, was used last year when tens of thousands of black Congolese were killed by U.S. and Belgian imperialism under the cover of a “humanitarian rescue mission.”
Some white workers will be frightened and fooled by the “big lie” headlines, but others will fight against the false propaganda and support the black liberation struggle.
White workers cannot forget their own history of struggle – and the many strikes and demonstrators that were shot down by armed police, National Guardsmen and federal troops in the fight for union shops, a living wage and better job conditions. They will remember how MacArthur shot the unemployed veterans on the White House lawn in 1932.
The very armories that stand menacingly in the large cities today were built immediately after the national railroad strikes of 1877 when workers took over and ran things for several days. These armories, with their highly-placed, narrow openings for armed guardsmen were erected to shoot masses of workers advancing down main streets.
White workers today are generally better off than the black people, who are engaged in a militant struggle for more jobs, housing and full political rights. But even today, where white workers are fighting for the same demands, they are also ruthlessly wiped out, like the unemployed coal miners of Hazard, Kentucky or the 80,000 laid-off white railroad workers, victims of the Johnson-bosses-union gang-up or the teamsters shot at in a recent Tennessee strike.
They, too, meet up with violent repression at the hands of the ruling class.
As more and more white workers lose their jobs due to automation and the inability of the capitalist war economy to grow along with the population, they too will have to fight for their economic and political demands, or go under.
The Johnson Administration has only one answer for workers who struggle for a better life – armed terror and suppression. Just as it commits genocide in Vietnam and the Congo, the government does not hesitate to use its army against the black people at home. Similarly, the same thing is in store for white workers who fight back as soon as they feel the squeeze.
By rejecting the racist slanders of the press and the hysteria whipped up by the politicians who serve the bosses, by supporting the black people in their liberation struggle, white workers are protecting themselves and preparing their own defense for the attacks Johnson will unleash against them when he and his bosses cannot meet their demands.
While national and local politicians grab headlines with their crocodile tears about “how terrible things are in Watts,” the ghetto dwellers who continue to live in poverty, face to face with the daily brutality of the police, are learning important lessons.
First: they have seen the great power and heroism that a people possess when they decide to resist and fight back. Although unorganized and facing tremendous odds, for a brief moment (two whole days) the people liberated their own community and kept out the police.
Second: the government will not hesitate to use the army and all the terror at its command to crush the resistance. Therefore, unorganized resistance is too weak to meet the enemy. The people must build up self-defense organizations that will train them and coordinate their defense.
Third: just as the Wagner Administration used the Harlem uprising as a pretext for an attack on the Progressive Labor Party, indicting Bill Epton and others on phony charges, so will the ruling class use every uprising as an excuse for an all-out attack on the militants and radical sections of the community. In Los Angeles, long after the fighting subsided, the police raided the Muslim mosque, shooting down 8 persons and arresting many others.
The people must prepare for these attacks. They must build up alongside their armed self-defense the independent political organizations that can lead the fight for their demands and continue to lead, no matter what kind of attacks.
Fourth: the Uncle Toms were clearly exposed. Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King showed that they believe non-violence is good only for the masses. But as soon as the people fight back, both of them urge the police and Johnson to use all the force and violence necessary to put the people down. These traitors became a mouthpiece for the Nazi Police Chief Parker in their efforts to cover up for Johnson.
(Also, those who had illusions about bringing the troops home from Vietnam and sending them to Mississippi have learned the hard way that the ruling class will use its troops only to crush the people, never to defend their rights.)
Finally: the uprising clearly revealed the internal weaknesses of the paper tiger. The U.S. ruling class was forced to use the entire national guard strength of California to occupy 120 miles of its own territory. The California uprising marked a real advance over last year in the ability of the people to resist, and force the Johnson Administration to further expose itself before the American people and the world despite “civil rights” bills and “leaders.”
The fight for jobs and better living conditions will go on in Watts and all around the country. In Watts and other ghettos the buildings of political and self-defense organizations can begin around these demands:
1. Arrest the Nazi Police Chief Parker, Governor Brown, and Mayor Yorty and bring them to trial for murder.
2. Disarm the criminal police and punish the guilty ones.
3. Withdraw the occupation troops immediately.
4. Release the 3,000 hostages.
5. Turn the welfare agencies into job agencies and provide jobs for all.
These demands can be supported by ghetto dwellers and black and white workers around the country.
The “looters” of the Boston Tea Party two centuries ago are remembered and honored today as the Sons of Liberty.
The uprising in Watts is only one fight in the long battle of the people for their liberation.