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The Revolutionary Socialism Of Martin Luther King Jr.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the establishment (and their media) like to celebrate MLK’s love of imperial America and centrist economic doctrine. The symbol celebrated bares little resemblance to the actual man and his ideas.

There is a reason the FBI orchestrated a well-resourced campaign to destroy King that ultimately culminated in J. Edgar Hoover having a letter sent to King to push King to commit suicide.

The reason is Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed capitalism and the American empire.

In the last campaign before his assassination, King campaigned for a democratic socialist agenda. Called the Poor People’s Campaign, demands included a guaranteed job, retribution of land and capital, and more inclusion of the poor in state decision-making.

Yes, taking land and money from rich people and giving it to poor people was part of King’s dream.

King’s own views of capitalism are often sanitized in textbooks and mainstream media stories, but he could not have been for explicit:

“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then,” King declared. “You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

King’s anti-capitalist views cannot really be bifurcated from his struggle for racial justice as they come from the same spiritual conception of the world. For King, capitalism was part of materialism. which was part of a deadly triplet.

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered,” King asserted.

King also backed a universal basic income, believing it was a better solution to fighting poverty than the programs put forward by President Lyndon Johnson’s War On Poverty.

In his 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”, King made his position on fighting poverty and a UBI crystal clear, “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

Another fact left out of mainstream narratives about MLK is his fundamental opposition to U.S. imperialism. Though he knew he would make many enemies-black and white-by doing so, King gave a scorching speech against the Vietnam War in 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York City.

King condemned the war as robbing anti-poverty programs and victimizing the poor Americans who were having to fight and die in the war. But his most salient critique was the war’s fundamental opposition to his goals of nonviolence.

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action,” King shared.

“But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

El-P (left) and Killer Mike (right) of Run The Jewels | Photo by Brennan Schnell
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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.