Whether wittingly or not Dr. King’s legacy is consistently whitewashed. Something I found particularly amusing today was the FBI tweeting a quote of Dr. King and remarking how it is etched in stone at Quantico. Mind you, this is the same FBI that tried to blackmail King via a letter instructing him to commit suicide.
Alongside his central role in the civil rights movement, King was also a powerful force in the Democratic Socialist tradition at a time when ‘red scare’ politics were still fervently alive within the manufactured American psyche. Dr. King was staunchly anti-capitalist as well as anti-imperialist. In his mind, the dominatory power structures that institutionally subjugated his people, as well as countless peoples abroad, were inextricably linked to the class structures that supplanted them. In other words, the powers of Capital and the oppressive state were infused. However, simply de-coupling them does not go far enough, nor have we even achieved that. Indeed Dr. King did not dream of a future where the modality had shifted from white supremacist capitalism to the diverse “woke” performative capitalism we find ourselves in today — a capitalism that is fundamentally unstable and that has abjectly failed to respond to its second-worst ever capitulation in 2008.
The International Monetary Fund (which certainly does NOT serve Western Capital) reported in 2019 that roughly 40% of corporate debt in eight leading countries would be impossible to pay in the event of an economic downturn half as bad as 2008’s. These stockpiles of cheaply acquired debt are often utilized to buy back company stock further exposing the market to a reflexive toppling when the next downturn inevitably occurs. The point of this tangent is that capitalism is driving itself towards yet another crisis in response to its last one. It is the people that Dr. King fought for who suffer the most during these routine catastrophes which are mundanely hand-waved away as “healthy” phases in the “business cycle”. King, like Marx, and so many others dreamed of a world in which we would graduate beyond capitalism entirely just as we had done with feudalism, slavery, etc.
Let us also take this opportunity to remind ourselves not to fall for the trap of identity politics. They serve a role in the grander picture but as Adolph Reed states, identity politics — when cynically weaponized the way they have been in the U.S (look no further than CNN’s smear attempts at a certain pres. candidate this past week) — are devoid of class considerations and as such the politics of the ruling class. I do not personally hold Dr. King’s religious views but undoubtedly his religion helped inform a vision in which all people, or more aptly, God’s children — white, black, or otherwise, would be free to live a full and healthful life absent of the atrocities of racism, poverty, and war. And so I urge you once more not to fall victim to the same kind of identity-based reductionism’s that have whitewashed King’s legacy. It is precisely these forces which aim to splinter class-solidarity among the racially diverse working class.
Furthermore, do not allow yourself to become cynical at a time so crucial as the present. For the first time in a century, we have a candidate running for president who has consistently fought for the working class not just of the U.S but of the entire world through his efforts to curb American imperialism; something no other politician currently approaches. Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, has been on the right side of history dating back to getting arrested during Civil Rights action all the way to today where he has consistently opposed Trump’s military budget increases, spearheaded the bipartisan effort to strengthen the VA health care system, co-authored bipartisan legislation to end the U.S’ involvement in Yemeni genocide, and perhaps most impressively, shifted the platform of the Democratic Party further to the progressive side than ever before as a result of his entry into the national consciousness in 2016. There were decade long stretches where Bernie stood alone in the positions he took and now he has inspired a new generation of grass-roots activists to take on the mantle alongside him. The electrifying congresswomen from The Bronx, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said as much herself.
Be that as it may, electoral politics is merely one step in a series of vital ones when it comes to enacting real change in a society. Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement serve as historical proof for the efficacy of such a doctrine. And for the first time in decades, there is a resurgence of a broad leftist coalition rising up all over the world from Chile to Lebanon to Ecuador to Sudan to Puerto Rico and more; in order to combat the neoliberal establishment which has pedestalized “free” markets over incurred human costs in the name of economic growth — of which it has still largely failed to achieve. A system that has crushed so many for so long that it has spawned a new breed of right-wing populism in its wake, something that Bill Fletcher jr. eloquently refers to as “the herpes of capitalism”.
For the first time in my life, the young people of the world have come together in unprecedented numbers, deciding that no longer will the ruling class be free to ecologically eviscerate the only home we have to inherit in the name of short-term profits. Scientists have even begun advocating for civil-disobedience as a response to the current crisis we face.
The youth of the world are broadly beginning to understand that the vernacular of capitalism is simply not equipped to take on the crises of today. The wildfires that are presently raging in Australia, the fires that ravaged the Amazon last summer, the fires that have been consistently ignored by the dysfunctional government in Lebanon, and the fires that have destroyed and will continue to destroy wide swaths of land in California, are all viewed as externalities under the language of capitalism. Meaning external to the profit-making of firms. This sociopathic-adjacent worldview is untenable going forward, full-stop.
The left will also have to take great care as the effects of climate change worsen and displace more people. It will not matter if the right believes the science, as if science cares for one's beliefs, when millions of more displaced refugees begin knocking on the doors of the developed world. The left should expect an eco-fascist response from the right and as such begin taking steps to de-militarize our borders and de-criminalize wanting a better future for yourself and your family. We’ve already observed eco-fascistic terrorism as a nation when last August the El Paso shooter gunned down 22 innocents in a Walmart. He and the Christchurch NZ shooters cited “cultural and ethnic invasion” brought on by events such as climate displacement as their motivation. In their deluded minds, white identity is at risk of being replaced. I say this to say that climate change, capitalism, right-wing accelerationism, and fascism are all inexorably intertwined. Untangling this inbred nexus of ideology will require far more broad action than what electoral politics can presently achieve.
I’m optimistic but the realistic truth is that this decade presents our last opportunity to disembark from the insanely destructive status quo and begin the shift towards a society rooted in equity, equality, and as Dr. King preached, Radical Love. Likewise, as tantalizing as the liberal obsession with Trump may be to adopt, Trump is merely a symptom of the greater disease. Defeating him is crucial but even more crucial is replacing him and his apparatchiks with people who won't merely be less bigoted and grotesque vehicles for capital, but instead vehicles for a platform of Radical Love. And even more crucial than his replacement with a candidate such as Bernie Sanders who remains unmatched in his rhetoric of economic justice and anti-imperialism, is the continuation and strengthening of left-wing organizing and action in order to combat the right-wing populism that has been fomenting into something intensely formidable as a result of the widespread neoliberal failure. This decade will serve as a watershed moment that history shall either memorialize or abhor depending on the actions we take. In Dr. King’s own words “This is no time to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism”. Veritably, we owe this much to his legacy.