Restoring Socialist Visionary Radical Martin Luther King
A good Martin Luther King Day to you all.
On another thread this week, a number of us had been speaking about the cravenly sanitized, ‘officially sanctioned’ (even sanctified) version of Dr. King as the ‘good reformist Negro’ that most of us grew up knowing, as opposed to the real MLK. Oh, yes: we were to love and respect his ‘I have a dream’ speech, but oh, no, not his Riverside Church speech, ‘Beyond Viet Nam: a time to break silence’. He, of course, spoke of the ways the war had not only stopped the civil rights movement from moving forward, but also the ways in which it moved it backward, and mirrored the struggles of the poor and disenfranchised in this country, both black and white, as he admitted that he couldn’t speak of the moral courage of nonviolent resistance while the poor were so disproportionately being killed by the largest purveyor of violence in the world: the US of A. Oh, how he feared for America’s moral soul, and how well he expressed the righteous truth of what he saw!
We weren’t encouraged to see him as having such an active third eye, the chakra (energy center) related to the intuitive, the all-seeing stepping out of time and place into The Whole; the gateway to the Mystical and Prophetic… And yet, that was key to not only who the man was, but key to not only how he saw the immorality of this nation in his time, but the tragedy he saw unfolding in the future, were militarism, racism, and poverty left unchecked. Yes, Dr. King: you would look at this nation now and cry that we collectively failed to heed your words.
In his last message to the world the day before he was murdered in Memphis, he even prophesied his own death: “Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord”.
Nor were we to understand how truly revolutionary the man really was, even as he called for ‘a True Revolution of Values’, and a total restructuring of society. But I digress.
In another one of those moments of blessed synchronicity, author Paul Street published ‘Remembering the Officially Deleted Dr. King: Trumpet of Conscience’, in which he partially reconstructs five interviews that he did with CBC back in November and December of 1967 that were made into a book he found last summer, ‘The Trumpet of Conscience’. It’s worth reading all of it, but I’ll snag a few bits for you. Also of interest is this piece he wrote and published at Black Agenda Report in 2007, ‘The Pale Reflection: Barack Obama, MLK and the Meaning of the Black Revolution’, which he amplifies in the second half of his ‘Officially Deleted’ post.
Street quotes King in the first talk as having rued the fact that while fractional positive changes had been made for Negroes in the south, none of it translated into better conditions for those in the ghettoes in the north.
‘Worse than merely limited, the gains won by black Americans during what King considered the “first phase” of their freedom struggle (1955-1965) were dangerous in that they “brought whites a sense of completion” – a preposterous impression that the so-called “Negro problem” had been solved and that there was therefore no more basis or justification for further black activism. “When Negroes assertively moved on to ascend to the second rung of the ladder,” King noted, “a firm resistance from the white community developed….In some quarters it was a courteous rejection, in others it was a stinging white backlash. In all quarters unmistakably it was outright resistance’.
When asked about the race riots of 1966 and 1967, King didn’t make any apologies for their violence, but put the onus on “the white power structure…still seeking to keep the walls of segregation and inequality intact” for the disturbances. He believed that the leading cause of the riots was in the reactionary posture of “the white society, unprepared and unwilling to accept radical structural change,” which led to the chaos by telling blacks (whose expectations for substantive change had been aroused) “that they must expect to remain permanently unequal and permanently poor”.
And again he blamed in part the ‘Imperialist murderous war in Viet Nam, and “the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school. We watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit,” adding that he “could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor”.
Would he see the all-volunteer army as all too often acting as a de facto jobs program for the poor now?
In the ‘The White Man Does Not Obey the Law’ talk, he explained more of what he meant, all noteworthy, including, “…he (the white man) violates laws on equal employment and education and the provision of public services. The slums are a handiwork of a vicious system of the white society.”
He’d remarked that to a great degree, any violence and destruction was directed toward the buildings and property of the white power structure, not at people, and said: “Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround with rights and respect, it has no personal being”.
Agree or disagtee, those in the Occupy movement who were in favor of ‘diversity of tactics’ seemed to echo that sentiment, didn’t they?
In ‘The roots are in the system’ talk, Street argues that given that MLK studied Marx when he was young, and believes that ‘the system’ he meant was capitalism as he spoke against the corporate state, agreeing with the New Left Radicals:
“only by structural change can current evils be eliminated, because the roots are in the system rather in man or faulty operations” (p.40). King advocated an emergency national program providing either decent-paying jobs for all or a guaranteed national income “at levels that sustain life in decent circumstances.” He also called tor “demolition of slums and rebuilding by the population that lives in them”
Quoting MLK again: “If humanism is locked outside the system, Negroes will have revealed its inner core of despotism and a far grater struggle for liberation will unfold. The United States is substantially challenged to demonstrate that it can abolish not only the evils of racism but the scourge of poverty and the horrors of war….”
I’d like to quote these paragraphs from Street on the transcript of “They Must Organize a Revolution… Against the Privileged Minority of the Earth”:
‘No careful listener to King’s CBC talks could have missed the radicalism of his vision and tactics. “The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both White and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society,” King said in his fourth lecture. “They must organize a revolution against that injustice,” he added.
Such a revolution would require “more then a statement to the larger society,” more than “street marches” King proclaimed. “There must,” he added, “be a force that interrupts [that society’s] functioning at some key point.” That force would use “mass civil disobedience” to “transmute the deep rage of the ghetto into a constructive and creative force” by “dislocate[ing] the functioning of a society.”
“The storm is rising against the privileged minority of the earth,” King added for good measure. “The storm will not abate until [there is a] just distribution of the fruits of the earth…” (p. 17). As this reference to the entire earth suggested, the “massive, active, nonviolent resistance to the evils of the modern system” (p. 48) that King advocated was “international in scope,” reflecting the fact that “the poor countries are poor primarily because [rich Western nations] have exploited them through political or economic colonialism. Americans in particular must help their nation repent of her modern economic imperialism” (p. 62).
In the Trumpet of Conscience you read a democratic socialist mass-disobedience world revolution advocate who the guardians of national memory don’t want you know about when they honor the official, doctrinally imposed memory of King.’
But again, he had also called for a ‘true revolution of values’ the day before he was assassinated. Parenthetically, both Washingtonsblog.com and WhoWhatWhy.com have posts up about the King family’s civil wrongful death suit and trial alleging that the US government conspired to execute him, if you’d care to read about it. They won the lawsuit. I was unaware of the trial, sadly, and I’m sure most of the world was as well.
In the same speech, he quoted the great poet Langston Hughes, ‘that black bard of Harlem’:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
Let us take heart in the hope that humanity really is on the cusp of the Revolution of values and higher consciousness deemed crucial by King, and foretold by the Maya and other global Indigenous. Toward that end, love all those you can, make community with others, even those you don’t particularly care for. Love and truth are our most worthy weapons in the revolution that we know will be coming sooner or later. There is a better world possible, and we need to help build it with grace and positive intentions toward justice for all.
(cross-posted at Cafe-Babylon.net)