African American History is American History
By Allen Harris, The People's Tribune (Online Edition), Vol.24 no. 2, February 1997
It has become customary in February to take up what we call African American history, to recall the saga of the people of this hemisphere whose roots are in Africa. The Africans who came to these shores nearly 400 years ago did not do so of their own free will. Since then, the struggle has been to regain it. And yet, once here, the history of the Africans, the Europeans, the Native Americans and all other peoples who now call the United States their home has become bonded into one history.
From slavery to today, the social and economic oppression of the black people of the United States has always been a part of the oppression of the working class. Bourgeois rule in America has always depended upon using the color question to divide and hold down both white and non-white workers and poor people. The secret has been to divide white and black Southerners by holding down the blacks and then to divide the South from the rest of the country by keeping conditions in the region the poorest and least progressive.
The struggle of the African American people has been to make real the highest aspirations of American democracy. And as the African American people have moved forward toward that aspiration, so has all of American society.
This is why we say that African American history really is American history itself. What this means is that the struggle of the African American people has been inseparable from every chapter of American history itself.
Today, America is leaving the industrial era. A "post-industrial" age symbolized by the new emerging technology is revolutionizing the economy. This new age is, in a way, also revolutionizing African American history. But how?
Until now, the struggle of the African American people could achieve at most concessions -- reforms -- from the capitalist class that ruled the nation. The last such social reform, desegregation and "affirmative action," came from the struggles of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. These reforms now are coming under direct and intensifying attack, just as welfare has been and Social Security soon will be.
For the first time, the capitalists' use of technology to eliminate human work they no longer need is throwing millions of people into permanent unemployment and poverty. These "throw- aways" are of all colors and nationalities. They are becoming a new class whose need for food, housing, clothing and freedom itself cannot be met under the old system because they are excluded from it.
The same technology which the capitalists use to exclude these new poor -- in which millions of African Americans find themselves -- can be used in the hands of this new class to end poverty and create universal abundance.
If there is no poverty, if there is no scarcity, then there can be no real basis for economic or social inequality. If the basic human needs of each is met according to need, then the old antagonisms between people of different colors or nationalities become pointless.
Now, more than ever, the struggle of the great majority of African Americans is being expressed in terms of pure survival: homes, food, clothing, education, health care and more. It is inseparable from what the class as a whole is fighting for. For the class as a whole, it means that fighting for survival is bound up with the fight of the African American people for freedom.
The complete freedom of the African American people from the oppression they have fought so long against can only come through revolutionary change of this society. That change can only come when the vast majority of Americans now without power gain that power and use it to end poverty.
Let this year's tribute to African American History Month be a new call for the class to unite, to become stronger and more ready to fight for this power.
The mechanization of Southern agriculture resulted in a massive migration of African Americans from the Black Belt. The migrations reduced the huge majority of blacks relative to whites, but it did not affect the colonial position of the area. It is still the poorest area of the country. It still has the worst schools, the poorest health care, the greatest unemployment -- the lowest standard of living. It is still the foundation of national political reaction. It is still owned and exploited by Northern financial interests. ... The special oppression of the blacks facilitated the election of the most reactionary, chauvinistic, imperialist, jingoist politicians.
-- Nelson Peery, African American Liberation and Revolution in the United States. (Available for $2.50 from the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, P.O. Box 477113, Chicago, Illinois 60647)
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