50 years after the wave of black revolts in the United States, the riots in Baltimore
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 12; Autumn - Winter 2015)
News of the death of Freddie Gray a young black man of 25 years, beaten to death by police after being arrested without reason on April 12 (an arrest later declared to be «illegal» by the City Attorney, obviously trying to calm the anger of the protesters) resulted in violent riots in the city of Baltimore (Maryland), a coastal port of the United States. Martial law was declared in the city and several thousand soldiers of the National Guard were mobilized as reinforcements for the thousands of local policemen.
We also witnessed the instructive spectacle of the union for the defense of the established order, in addition to the media, of politicians of all parties and priests of all persuasions, of police as well as gangs. Thus the «Bloods», the «Crips» and the «Nation of Islam» who usually engage in deadly wars for control of neighborhoods where they deal, agreed among themselves (following a meeting in a Baptist church) and with the priests and the police to prevent rioting as much as possible and to protect businesses and policemen from the demonstrators!
In Baltimore, where 64% of the population is black, the roots of rebellion are social; the city has experienced a sharp industrial decline since the 70s and has been severely affected by the recent economic crisis. The mayor is black, as are the police chief and half of the police officers; this does not prevent the youth and young black proletarians in particular from harassment by the police; corruption, unpunished crimes and abuses by local police are well documented: they are at least as common as elsewhere, demonstrating that it is not the color of the skin of the cops or politicians which is at issue. The official poverty rate in Baltimore was 28% against 14.5% nationally. In the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived, the unemployment rate is 52% of the population of working age (it is even higher in other districts!), one third of houses are abandoned. In a particularly telling reflection of social inequality, the 15 poorest districts of the city have a life expectancy comparable to that of a Third World country: between the wealthiest neighborhood (with a white population!) and the poorest in Baltimore, there is a difference in life expectancy at birth of 19 years!
The magnitude of the reaction of the Baltimore authorities and the state of Maryland is explained by the memory of the 1968 riots that left 6 dead, 700 injured and resulted in 3,500 arrests in the city; more than 10,000 soldiers had to be deployed at the time to «maintain order.» Indeed, after those of Ferguson last year the riots in Baltimore have caused resurgent anxiety among the bourgeoisie and their lackeys at the specter of the riots that shook the United States roughly fifty years ago.
In the summer of 1964 a riot in New York occurred against a backdrop of police brutality, announcing the wave of riots labelled «racial» because blacks were the main protagonists, which would mark the second half of the sixties in United States. It was then the first cracks began to appear in the virtually continuous economic expansion in the United States since the end of the war, while the political situation became tenser due to the Vietnam War and of conscription in order to funnel cannon fodder into the US Army. The black ghetto riots of the sixties which were savagely repressed, like the growing agitation against the war, itself also repressed including bloody episodes, had their counterpart in a revival of workers’ struggles, including internationally.
These riots virtually disappear in the 70s, following the policy of the bourgeoisie which, besides repression that would imprison thousands of «agitators» and go on to murder others, had the possibility of dropping a few crumbs to calm the proletarians with a battery of social shock absorbers; it will also work to facilitate the formation of a black bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie to exercise influence over the proletariat or at least serve as a «buffer» between them and the bourgeois state. In a different economic situation, riots resumed in the 80s before peaking again in Los Angeles in 1992.
We publish below an article by Amadeo Bordiga, published in No. 15/1965 of Il Programma Comunista, the party organ at the time, on the riots in Los Angeles in the summer of 1965, in renewing the fervent hope that the current riots are the harbingers of future, and victorious struggles.
International Communist Party