On June 19, 1862, Congress abolished slavery in the U.S. territories. This historic event is celebrated as “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth 2015 is a fitting moment to look at the role of the color question in American politics. It is a time to look at how it is changing in the era of electronics, and consider the possibility of workers moving forward from racial division to class unity and a new world.
Racism has been fostered by ruling classes for centuries across the world to facilitate class exploitation, and is an integral part of capitalism. Historically in the US, the color form of racism subjected all African Americans, regardless of education or wealth, to oppression, segregation and discrimination. This began to change when the mechanization of Southern agriculture in the 1940s and 50s freed millions of Black sharecroppers from the land and drove them into the cities. This economic revolution was the material basis for unleashing the modern freedom struggle, which put an end to legal segregation and discrimination. Over time, the mass of African Americans integrated into the country’s industrial workforce, while the Black political, cultural and economic elite integrated into the ruling class and the political bureaucracy. The Black worker and the Black capitalist now had diverging economic interests.
In the late 1960s, another economic revolution—the application of the computer and the robot to production—began to affect many workers. This labor-replacing technology is eliminating jobs permanently and creating a new section of the working class whose labor is no longer needed. Because the Black worker had been forcibly concentrated in unskilled and semi-skilled jobs which were easily automated, they were hit first and hardest by electronics, but over time every section of workers has been hit, regardless of color. Today even white-collar jobs are replaced by technology.
The result is rising poverty and permanent unemployment among workers of all colors. Because their needs cannot be met by a capitalist system based on private property, these dispossessed workers, if united politically, pose a threat to the system itself. Therefore the ruling class must isolate these workers and attack them, and is building a fascist police state to do this. The attack is focused on the Black worker first, but the real target is all workers. The goal is to keep the workers divided and the ruling class in power.
The dispossessed workers, on the other hand, are compelled to fight for a new kind of society or starve. In this sense, Juneteenth, which was a plateau in the struggle for the emancipation of labor, takes on new meaning. Today, for the first time, the possibility of uniting a section of workers across the color line in America exists. Today it is possible to politically unite those who share a common economic condition in a struggle for the political power to create a new, cooperative society free of poverty and racism. The task of revolutionaries is to do the education necessary to make this a reality.