Ideas & Debates
Bring BLM Back to the Streets: A Critique of the M4BL Platform
Donald Trump’s victory demands our vigilance and readiness to fight. The urgency for a united front of resistance and mobilizations to defend against rightwing attacks has become clearer than ever. However, the Movement 4 Black Lives platform seems to point in the opposite direction.
December 30, 2016
Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images
After Donald Trump won the elections, one thing rings true: we need to get back to the streets, fight side by side and resist the advance of the right. Scattered attacks on Blacks, Muslims and Latinxs have escalated in the past couple weeks, signaling a transition to a time of increased confrontations with bigots- in uniform or in civil clothing.
Unless we are prepared to fight back, this new scenario has the potential to catch the movement against police brutality and institutionalized racism flat-footed. The following analysis reaffirms the dynamism of BLM, provides analysis on the M4BL and its platform as a departure from direct resistance and discusses the ways in which M4BL can play a role in the movement against Trump.
The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) is a coalition of 28 organizations fighting against racist police killings. In August, they released a platform of demands entitled, “A Vision for Black Lives,” which laid out a diagnosis of the situation and specific policy proposals to address racial inequalities in the US.
The platform is a comprehensive analysis regarding the different forms of institutionalized racism Black people in particular are subjected to. However, some of the political proposals lead the movement out of the streets and back into the system through the non-profit industrial complex.
The document’s first paragraph introduces a powerful, accurate statement: “Elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement.” This is a very important point. Elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike have targeted Black communities, passed bills that resulted in a skyrocketing incarceration of predominantly Black people, defunded schools in Black communities and cut the spending for social programs. And although the tendency is to think about Republicans when talking about budget cuts, we should remember that Bill Clinton was in charge of dismantling welfare, “as we know it" and Barack Obama has allowed banks to get away with the largest theft of wealth from the Black community—leaving hundreds of thousands displaced. Democratic Party operative Police Chief William Bratton has led an assault on Black communities in New York and Los Angeles. Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the policies that have targeted and undermined Black communities.
The Vision for Black Lives explains the movement’s endeavors to raise queer and trans people, immigrants, women, and Muslims to form the ranks of the leadership. A movement for social liberation must include the most oppressed layers of the working class, and any program for collective emancipation needs to address their demands. A conscious effort to foster and facilitate their leadership is in order.
Although the organizations behind M4BL are waging a fight at the national level, the international implications of US politics are included within the scope of the statement, expressing an indictment of US imperialism: “We stand in solidarity with our international family against the ravages of global capitalism and anti-Black racism, human-made climate change, war, and exploitation.” The statement also characterizes Israel as “a state that practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades”, forming part of the organization’s common ground.
Among several demands, the M4BL calls for “an immediate end to the criminalization and dehumanization of Black youth,” including an end to “zero-tolerance school policies and arrests of students, the removal of police from schools,” an end to capital punishment, solitary confinement and the bail system. Over 2.2 million adults are incarcerated, including a disproportionate number of Blacks people; the number rises to 6.8 million when including those on probation or parole. More than 60 percent of the over 700,000 prisoners serving time in local jails in the United States have not been convicted of a crime. They are awaiting trial and unable to make bail.
Last, we support and echo the M4BL’s demands for equitable and universal healthcare, free education for all, divestment in fossil fuels and cuts in military expenditures.
Limitations of the Platform
While there are a number of essential demands made in the platform, there are also some important weaknesses that need to be addressed.
First, it takes the form of a policy brief, not a rallying cry for mass mobilization. In the entire document, there is not a word on coordinating or escalating protests, organizing roadblocks, boycotts, strikes, or demonstrations. There is no language that will unite the anger, energy and will to fight—which we have seen time and again in the thousands who take the streets.
The M4BL is a position paper and does not aim to organize Black youth, women, LGBTQ and workers into the community, streets and workplaces to fight back. Rather than a call to action, it is a blueprint that leads militants into the nonprofit industrial complex.
Some of the political proposals direct the movement out of the streets and back into the system through the non-profit industrial complex. This takes us back to the unequivocal statement in the platform’s first paragraph—“elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement.”
The question is, why would elected leaders act differently now? Will lobbying prevent police killings from happening again? The fight against racist police killings is not new. Only the pressure of youth, trans people, women, immigrants, disabled people and workers in the streets provoked national discussion, not lobbying.
The M4BL platform transmits baseless expectations in the usual political channels, as if ending police brutality and anti-Black racism were simply about coming up with the right policy proposal. This shows an important misunderstanding by the militant and devoted M4BL organizers of how change is achieved and is has historically taken place in the US and elsewhere.
The M4BL and BLM in particular have grown because of the demonstrated unwillingness to bow to "respectability politics”: the rejection of the notion that the fight against police murder should only take place in constrained, legal arenas of struggle. By turning away from the call to action, the M4BL appears to acquiesce to the need for "pragmatic" solutions. In fact, street confrontation and transportation shutdowns have shown to be effective. The slowdown of the actions, even in the name advancing policies, will allow policymakers to ignore the movement.
For example, while the presidential primary campaigns—Clinton and Sanders in particular—were influenced by pressure and disruptions by BLM youth, in the later debates between Clinton and Trump, the demands against police terror were completely sidelined.
We can only expect a concerted effort from the interested parties (funders, nonprofit managers backing the platform, foundations) to harness a movement that has been explosive, disruptive and unpredictable; to channel it through the cooling mechanisms of petitioning, letter-writing to Congress and lobbying.
How Did We Get Here?
We may ask ourselves, how did a platform of a movement that swept the streets throughout the US become a set of policy briefs meant to lobby Congress? The undersigned names and organizational affiliations give us a hint: most belong to the world of nonprofits, many are sponsored by the Ford Foundation, George Soros, the Black-Led Movement Fund, and other capitalist funders.
The ever-burgeoning nonprofit industry has a key role to play in contemporary US society. It contains the outrage of the disenfranchised, the most exploited and oppressed.
Wealthy philanthropists like George Soros are not friends of popular struggles, foolishly bankrolling their own demise. Organizations like the Ford Foundation are not interested in "liberation,” but rather, appeasement and co-optation. There is a long history of US capitalists intervening in social movements (ie., the Civil Rights movement) with the effect of steering them away from militancy and towards compromise. Philanthropy is a strategy of the rich, who may give up some wealth to fund progressive projects in order to quell social unrest, maintain their position of power, and maintain the capitalist order.
Many organizations that form part of the M4BL have taken donations from corporations, including a $500,000 grant from Google (Ella Baker Foundation). There is plenty of lip service to opposing capitalism, but how much challenge is really being made when the same organizations are accepting money from millionaire capitalists and billion-dollar corporations?
The ever-burgeoning nonprofit industry has a key role to play in contemporary US society. It contains the outrage of the disenfranchised, the most exploited and oppressed. It diverts the thrust of militant activism from disruption to civic procedures. The money and logistics funneled into these movements have a determining influence. In exchange for precious resources, they shape the demands and methods of the organizations they fund to fit the likes of the funders. As progressive as it may seem, the generous influx of money into these movements causes terrible harm. A significant layer of activists becomes “professionalized,” embraces the modus operandi in these settings and reproduces a strategic framework and discourse that leads nowhere.
Whose Black Communities?
Intermingled with a set of progressive popular demands to benefit Black communities (ie., a living wage and support for local worker centers and unions) is one demand that stands out for its pro-capitalist character: support for Black-owned businesses, in addition to the “creation of Black banks, (…) insurance companies and other financial institutions.”
Small Black businesses have a harder time growing because of systemic racism. They are denied loans in banks and many non-Blacks do not shop in them because of anti-Black racism. However, funding Black businesses does not combat police brutality, nor does it organize against institutionalized racism. Instead, it is a promotion of Black capitalism. Slain Black Panther Fred Hampton once said, "We can’t fight fire with fire, we must fight fire with water. We don’t fight capitalism with more capitalism, but with socialism." Capitalism, even with Black exploiters, does not benefit the majority of Black people or improve the conditions of Black workers. In cities and countries with a predominantly Black capitalist class, Black people are still impoverished. The root of capitalism must be targeted.
Recently, Black Lives Matter (a prominent member of the M4BL) hired a multimillion-dollar ad agency to promote the development of Black businesses. J. Walter Thompson is the fourth largest network ad agency in the world and assists capitalists in exploiting people and nations worldwide. Their clients include Shell Oil (responsible for environmental disasters around the world and the assassination of Nigerian workers who opposed their practices), Nestle (currently fighting to privatize water) and the United States Marine Corps (enforcing US imperialism worldwide). This step towards hiring a (non-Black-owned) ad agency that deals in capitalist destruction is a contradiction to the ideals M4BL espouses. Rather than using the millions BLM has received to improve public schools, higher wages, social services or to mount a fight of organized militants against police brutality, this direction is even more of a break from anti-capitalist politics.
It is unfortunate that this push for Black capitalism finds room among legitimate demands of Black working class and poor people. There can’t be any liberation if the future of Black working-class communities is submitted to the protection and privileges of bosses who exploit them and support the two parties in Congress. There is no possibility that the demands of the most oppressed will be heeded in a platform shared with bankers or insurance company owners; thanks to them, 4 million families have lost their homes since the 2008 crisis, with Blacks communities hit the hardest. The platform’s section on Economic Justice does not address this contradiction. At best, it will bolster a Black elite while the Black working-class and poor remain impoverished.
Black "economic justice" requires an end to capitalism. Organizing on a class basis against racism and capitalism simultaneously—as opposed to working with philanthropists, bankers, bosses, etc.—can lead to an end to capitalism and racism. Oppressed people and the working class continue to fight against bigotry and for better working and living conditions, including higher wages, healthcare and education. Capitalists, Black capitalists included, have no need and no interest in this. Furthermore, uniting as Black workers in the fight for democratic rights provides the opportunity to converge with other workers’ movements. Organizing as workers enables us to build a mass movement for the achievement of these goals.
To fight the police, it is also important to organize along a class basis. To build for strikes i.e., shut down workplaces and therefore the economy against capitalism. To strike against police terror means building along a class basis against the police and the capitalist system they protect.
Community Control of the Police: An Oxymoron
Capitalism is based on inequality: economic inequality for the benefit of the rich and racial inequality to keep the working class divided. The police reinforce that division through brutality and violence. The state reinforces it through laws that benefit the rich and keep murdering cops on the streets.
The M4BL advances the slogan of “direct democratic community control of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.” The call for community control means a board or committee with the power to hire, fire and reprimand police. The slogan fosters the perspective that police, who exist to maintain capitalism, can be controlled through a bureaucratic measure—a committee. This demand creates the expectation that the police, as well as the national guard, state troopers and other repressive forces, can simply be “controlled” by the community.
Community boards such as these offer legitimacy to the State that murders oppressed people and represses the working class.
The call for community control means a board or committee with the power to hire, fire and reprimand police. The slogan fosters the perspective that police, who exist to maintain capitalism, can be controlled through a bureaucratic measure—a committee.
Whether a cop is hired by the consent of a community board does not change the cop’s role as enforcer of a racist, capitalist system. It focuses the problem of police on training, as if hiring the right cop will change the police’s need to protect those with the most wealth and property against the challenges of the working class and poor.
Working-Class Tactics for Fighting the Racist Police
M4BL has put forward demands and perspectives for opposing the police. However, to fight against the police and the racist system, we must organize as workers on a class basis.
Although many police officers have a working-class background before joining the force, their everyday activities dictate their consciousness—racism included. The police exists to repress the most oppressed sections of the working class, people of color, the disabled, LGBTQ, and the homeless are targets for daily harassment. Such harassment does not merely stem from the moral judgement or behaviors of individual police.
In addition to their daily racist harassment, the police are anti-worker. When workers go on strike or when protesters block a highway, the police don’t join the picket line or the demonstration. Instead, they curtail the protest, break the picket line and repress the workers, as has been sharply demonstrated in the Standing Rock struggle: private security and public law enforcement are defending capital and its destructive projects against the interests and well-being of indigenous and working-class people.
Organizing on a class basis can give us the force to build a mass mobilization against police brutality. We must fight to kick police unions out of our union federations and utilize unions as a bastions to wage this struggle, to go on strike against police killings and build class-wide solidarity.
The M4BL is a position paper and does not aim to organize Black youth, women, LGBTQ and workers into the community, streets and workplaces to fight back. Rather than a call to action, it is a blueprint that leads militants into the nonprofit industrial complex. The policy calls for economic justice, but to build Black capitalism rather than better living conditions and organizing in working-class Black communities.
To win the fight against Trump’s CEO-run cabinet and against racist anti-worker cops, oppressed people must organize in the streets, workplaces and communities. The bigots who violently attack Muslims, immigrants, women and Blacks will not be stopped by a policy brief, advertising or lobbying, but by a consistent and organized fight.
This fight must be independent of the Democratic and Republican parties and those agents aligned with them i.e. union bureaucrats, capitalist nonprofits and other defenders of the system. The combative tactics used to challenge police terror poses a threat to capitalism and its defenders. The shutting down of capital through organizing the working class and oppressed people to strike against police terror is a powerful weapon in our hands.
M4BL has laid out the numerous ways in which anti-Black racism is institutional, but abandons its militant origins and aligns with the system it claims to oppose. Our power is not through nonprofits or aligning with the Democratic Party funders. The power of the oppressed is still in the workplaces, streets and communities. Assata Shakur and Karl Marx said, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” We have a world to gain!