[News] Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 4 13:37:58 EDT 2015


  Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era

by Kali Akuno <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/kalaku1039/>
<http://www.counterpunch.org/author/kalaku1039/>September 4, 2015

Since the rebellion in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, Black people 
throughout the United States have been grappling with a number of 
critical questions such as why are Black people being hunted and killed 
every 28 hours or more by various operatives of the law? Why don’t Black 
people seem to matter to this society? And what can and must we do to 
end these attacks and liberate ourselves? There are concrete answers to 
these questions. Answers that are firmly grounded in the capitalist 
dynamics that structure the brutal European settler-colonial project we 
live in and how Afrikan people have historically been positioned within it.

*The Value of Black Life *

There was a time in the United States Empire, when Afrikan people, aka, 
Black people, were deemed to be extremely valuable to the “American 
project”, when our lives as it is said, “mattered”. This “time” was the 
era of chattel slavery, when the labor provided by Afrikan people was 
indispensable to the settler-colonial enterprise, accounting for nearly 
half of the commodified value produced within its holdings and exchanged 
in “domestic” and international markets. Our ancestors were held and 
regarded as prize horses or bulls, something to be treated with a degree 
of “care” (i.e. enough to ensure that they were able to work and 
reproduce their labor, and produce value for their enslavers) because of 
their centrality to the processes of material production.

What mattered was Black labor power and how it could be harnessed and 
controlled, not Afrikan humanity. Afrikan humanity did not matter – it 
had to be denied in order create and sustain the social rationale and 
systemic dynamics that allowed for the commodification of human beings. 
These “dynamics” included armed militias and slave patrols, iron-clad 
non-exception social clauses like the “one-drop” rule, the slave codes, 
vagrancy laws, and a complex mix of laws and social customs all aimed at 
oppressing, controlling and scientifically exploiting Black life and 
labor to the maximum degree. This systemic need served the variants of 
white supremacy, colonial subjugation, and imperialism that capitalism 
built to govern social relations in the United States. All of the 
fundamental systems created to control Afrikan life and labor between 
the 17^th and 19^th centuries are still in operation today, despite a 
few surface moderations, and serve the same basic functions.

The correlation between capital accumulation (earning a profit) and the 
value of Black life to the overall system has remained consistent 
throughout the history of the US settler-colonial project, despite of 
shifts in production regimes (from agricultural, to industrial, to 
service and finance oriented) and how Black labor was deployed. The more 
value (profits) Black labor produces, the more Black lives are valued. 
The less value (profits) Black people produce, the less Black lives are 
valued. When Black lives are valued they are secured enough to allow for 
their reproduction (at the very least), when they are not they can be 
and have been readily discarded and disposed of. This is the basic 
equation and the basic social dynamic regarding the value of Black life 
to US society.

*The Age of Disposability*

We are living and struggling through a transformative era of the global 
capitalist system. Over the past 40 years, the expansionary dynamics of 
the system have produced a truly coordinated system of resource 
acquisition and controls, easily exploitable and cheap labor, 
production, marketing and consumption on a global scale. The 
increasingly automated and computerized dynamics of this expansion has 
resulted in millions, if not billions, of people being displaced through 
two broad processes: one, from “traditional” methods of life sustaining 
production (mainly farming), and the other from their “traditional” or 
ancestral homelands and regions (with people being forced to move to 
large cities and “foreign” territories in order to survive). As the 
International Labor Organization (ILO) recently reported in its World 
Employment and Social Outlook 2015 paper, this displacement renders 
millions to structurally regulated surplus or expendable statuses.

Capitalist logic does not allow for surplus populations to be sustained 
for long. They either have to be reabsorbed into the value producing 
mechanisms of the system, or disposed of. Events over the past 20 (or 
more) years, such as the forced separation of Yugoslavia, the genocide 
in Burundi and Rwanda, the never ending civil and international wars in 
Zaire/Congo and central Afrikan region, the mass displacement of farmers 
in Mexico clearly indicate that the system does not posses the current 
capacity to absorb the surplus populations and maintain its equilibrium.

The dominant actors in the global economy – multinational corporations, 
the trans-nationalist capitalist class, and state managers – are in 
crisis mode trying to figure out how to best manage this massive surplus 
in a politically justifiable (but expedient) manner.

This incapacity to manage crisis caused by capitalism itself is 
witnessed by numerous examples of haphazard intervention at managing the 
rapidly expanding number of displaced peoples such as:

    * The ongoing global food crisis (which started in the mid-2000’s)
    where millions are unable to afford basic food stuffs because of
    rising prices and climate induced production shortages;

    * The corporate driven displacement of hundreds of millions of
    farmers and workers in the global south (particularly in Africa and
    parts of Southeast Asia);

    * Military responses (including the building of fortified walls and
    blockades) to the massive migrant crisis confronting the governments
    of the United States, Western Europe, Australia, Malaysia,
    Indonesia, Singapore, etc.;

    *The corporate driven attempt to confront climate change almost
    exclusively by market (commodity) mechanisms;

    *The scramble for domination of resources and labor, and the
    escalating number of imperialist facilitated armed conflicts and
    attempts at regime change in Africa, Asia (including Central Asia)
    and Eastern Europe.

More starkly, direct disposal experiments are also deepening and expanding:

    * Against Afrikans in Colombia,

    * Haitians in the Dominican Republic,

    * Sub-Saharan Afrikans in Libya,

    * Indigenous peoples in the Andean region,

    * The Palestinians in Gaza, Adivasis in India,

    * The Rohingya’s in Myanmar and Bangladesh,

    * And the list goes on.

Accompanying all of this is the ever expanding level of xenophobia and 
violence targeted at migrants on a world scale, pitting the unevenly 
pacified and rewarded victims of imperialism against one other as has 
been witnessed in places like South Africa over the last decade, where 
attacks on migrant workers and communities has become a mainstay of 
political activity.

The capitalist system is demonstrating, day by day, that it no longer 
possesses the managerial capacity to absorb newly dislocated and 
displaced populations into the international working class 
(proletariat), and it is becoming harder and harder for the 
international ruling class to sustain the provision of material benefits 
that have traditionally been awarded to the most loyal subjects of 
capitalisms global empire, namely the “native” working classes in 
Western Europe and settlers in projects like the United States, Canada, 
and Australia.

When the capitalist system can’t expand and absorb it must preserve 
itself by shifting towards “correction and contraction” – excluding and 
if necessary disposing of all the surpluses that cannot be absorbed or 
consumed at a profit). We are now clearly in an era of correction and 
contraction that will have genocidal consequences for the surplus 
populations of the world if left unaddressed.

This dynamic brings us back to the US and the crisis of jobs, mass 
incarceration and the escalating number of extrajudicial police killings 
confronting Black people.

*The Black Surplus Challenge/Problem *

Afrikan, or Black, people in the United States are one of these surplus 
populations. Black people are no longer a central force in the 
productive process of the United States, in large part because those 
manufacturing industries that have not completely offshored their 
production no longer need large quantities of relatively cheap labor due 
to automation advances. At the same time agricultural industries have 
been largely mechanized or require even cheaper sources of 
super-exploited labor from migrant workers in order to ensure profits.

Various campaigns to reduce the cost of Black labor in the US have 
fundamentally failed, due to the militant resistance of Black labor and 
the ability of Black working class communities to “make ends meet” by 
engaging in and receiving survival level resources from the underground 
economy, which has grown exponentially in the Black community since the 
1970’s. (The underground economy has exploded worldwide since the 1970’s 
due to the growth of unregulated “grey market” service economies and the 
explosion of the illicit drug trade. Its expansion has created 
considerable “market distortions” throughout the world, as it has 
created new value chains, circuits of accumulation, and financing 
streams that helped “cook the books” of banking institutions worldwide 
and helped finance capital become the dominant faction of capital in the 
1980’s and 90’s).

The social dimensions of white supremacy regarding consumer “comfort”, 
“trust” and “security” seriously constrain the opportunities of Black 
workers in service industries and retail work, as significant numbers of 
non-Black consumers are uncomfortable receiving direct services from 
Black people (save for things like custodial and security services). 
These are the root causes of what many are calling the “Black jobs 
crisis”. The lack of jobs for Black people translates into a lack of 
need for Black people, which equates into the wholesale devaluation of 
Black life. And anything without value in the capitalist system is 

The declining “value” of Black life is not a new problem – Black people 
have constituted an escalating problem in search of a solution for the 
US ruling class since the 1960’s. Although the US labor market started 
to have trouble absorbing Afrikan workers in the 1950’s, the surplus 
problem didn’t reach crisis proportions until the late 1960’s, when the 
Black Liberation Movement started to critically impact industrial 
production with demands for more jobs, training and open access to 
skilled and supervisorial work (which were “occupied” by white 
seniority-protected workers), higher wages, direct representation 
(through instruments like the League of Revolutionary Black Workers), 
constant strikes, work stoppages, other forms of industrial action, 
militant resistance to state and non-state forces of repression and 
hundreds of urban rebellions.

This resistance occurred at the same time that the international regime 
of integrated production, trade management, and financial integration, 
and currency convergence instituted by the United States after WWII, 
commonly called the Bretton Woods regime, fully maturated and ushered in 
the present phase of globalization. This regime obliterated most 
exclusivist (or protectionist) production regimes and allowed 
international capital to scour the world for cheaper sources of labor 
and raw materials without fear of inter-imperialist rivalry and 
interference (as predominated during earlier periods). Thus, Black labor 
was hitting its stride just as capital was finding secure ways to 
eliminate its dependence upon it (and Western unionized labor more 
generally) by starting to reap the rewards of its post-WWII mega-global 
investments (largely centered in Western Europe, Australia, Japan, South 
Korea, and Taiwan).

One reward of these mega-global investments for US capital was that it 
reduced the scale and need for domestic industrial production, which 
limited the ability of Black labor to disrupt the system with work 
stoppages, strikes, and other forms of industrial action. As US capital 
rapidly reduced the scale of its domestic production in the 1970’s and 
80’s, it intentionally elevated competition between white workers and 
Afrikan and other non-settler sources of labor for the crumbs it was 
still doling out. The settler-world view, position, and systems of 
entitlement possessed by the vast majority of white workers compelled 
them to support the overall initiatives of capital and to block the 
infusion of Afrikan, Xicano, Puerto Rican and other non-white labor when 
there were opportunities to do so during this period.

This development provided the social base for the “silent majority,” 
“law and order,” “tuff on crime,” “war on drugs,” “war on gangs and 
thugs” campaigns that dominated the national political landscape from 
the late 1960’s through the early 2000’s, that lead to mass 
incarceration, racist drug laws, and militarized policing that have 
terrorized Afrikan (and Indigenous, Xicano, Puerto Rican, etc.) 
communities since the 1970’s.

To deal with the crisis of Black labor redundancy and mass resistance 
the ruling class responded by creating a multipronged strategy of 
limited incorporation, counterinsurgency, and mass containment. The 
stratagem of limited incorporation sought to and has partially succeeded 
in dividing the Black community by class, as corporations and the state 
have been able to take in and utilize the skills of sectors of the Black 
petit bourgeoisie and working class for their own benefit. The stratagem 
of counterinsurgency crushed, divided and severely weakened Black 
organizations. And the stratagem of containment resulted in millions of 
Black people effectively being re-enslaved and warehoused in prisons 
throughout the US empire.

This three-pronged strategy exhausted itself by the mid-2000 as core 
dynamics of it (particularly the costs associated with mass 
incarceration and warehousing) became increasingly unprofitable and 
therefore unsustainable. Experiments with alternative forms of 
incarceration (like digitally monitored home detainment) and the spatial 
isolation and externalization of the Afrikan surplus population to the 
suburbs and exurbs currently abound, but no new comprehensive strategy 
has yet been devised by the ruling class to solve the problem of what to 
do and what politically can be done to address the Black surplus 
population problem. All that is clear from events like the catastrophe 
following Hurricane Katrina and the hundreds of Afrikans being daily, 
monthly, and yearly extra-judicially killed by various law enforcement 
agencies is that Black life is becoming increasingly more disposable. 
And it is becoming more disposable because in the context of the 
American capitalist socio-economic system, Black life is a commodity 
rapidly depreciating in value, but still must be corralled and controlled.

*A Potential Path of Resistance *

Although Afrikan people are essentially “talking instruments” to the 
overlords of the capitalist system, Black people have always possessed 
our own agency. Since the dawn of the Afrikan slave trade and the 
development of the mercantile plantations and chattel slavery, Black 
people resisted their enslavement and the systemic logic and dynamics of 
the capitalist system itself.

The fundamental question confronting Afrikan people since their 
enslavement and colonization in territories held by the US government is 
to what extent can Black people be the agents and instruments of their 
own liberation and history? It is clear that merely being the object or 
appendage of someone else’s project and history only leads to a 
disposable future. Black people have to forge their own future and chart 
a clear self-determining course of action in order to be more than just 
a mere footnote in world history.

Self-determination and social liberation, how do we get there? How will 
we take care of our own material needs (food, water, shelter, clothing, 
health care, defense, jobs, etc.)? How will we address the social 
contradictions that shape and define us, both internally and externally 
generated? How should we and will we express our political independence?

There are no easy or cookie cutter answers. However, there are some 
general principles and dynamics that I believe are perfectly clear. 
Given how we have been structurally positioned as a disposable, surplus 
population by the US empire we need to build a mass movement that 
focuses as much on organizing and building /autonomous, self-organized 
and executed social projects/ as it focuses on campaigns and initiatives 
that apply /transformative pressure on the government and the forces of 
economic exploitation and domination/. This is imperative, especially 
when we clearly understand the imperatives of the system we are fighting 

The capitalism system has always required certain levels of worker 
“reserves” (the army of the unemployed) in order to control labor costs 
and maintain social control. But, the system must now do two things 
simultaneously to maintain profits: drastically reduce the cost of all 
labor and ruthlessly discard millions of jobs and laborers. “You are on 
your own,” is the only social rationale the system has the capacity to 
process and its overlords insist that “there is no alternative” to the 
program of pain that they have to implement and administer. To the 
system therefore, Black people can either accept their fate as a 
disposable population, or go to hell. We have to therefore create our 
own options and do everything we can to eliminate the systemic threat 
that confronts us.

Autonomous projects are initiatives not supported or organized by the 
government (state) or some variant of monopoly capital (finance or 
corporate industrial or mercantile capital). These are initiatives that 
directly seek to create a democratic “economy of need” around organizing 
sustainable institutions that satisfy people’s basic needs around 
principles of social solidarity and participatory or direct democracy 
that intentionally put the needs of people before the needs of profit. 
These initiatives are built and sustained by people organizing 
themselves and collectivizing their resources through dues paying 
membership structures, income sharing, resource sharing, time banking, 
etc., to amass the initial resources needed to start and sustain our 
initiatives. These types of projects range from organizing community 
farms (focused on developing the capacity to feed thousands of people) 
to forming people’s self-defense networks to organizing non-market 
housing projects to building cooperatives to fulfill our material needs. 
To ensure that these are not mere Black capitalist enterprises, these 
initiatives must be built democratically from the ground up and must be 
owned, operated, and controlled by their workers and consumers. These 
are essentially “serve the people” or “survival programs” that help the 
people to sustain and attain a degree of autonomy and self-rule. Our 
challenge is marshaling enough resources and organizing these projects 
on a large enough scale to eventually meet the material needs of nearly 
40 million people. And overcoming the various pressures that will be 
brought to bear on these institutions by the forces of capital to either 
criminalize and crush them during their development (via restrictions on 
access to finance, market access, legal security, etc.) or co-opt them 
and reincorporate them fully into the capitalist market if they survive 
and thrive.

Our pressure exerting initiatives must be focused on creating enough 
democratic and social space for us to organize ourselves in a 
self-determined manner. We should be under no illusion that the system 
can be reformed, it cannot. Capitalism and its bourgeois 
national-states, the US government being the most dominant amongst them, 
have demonstrated a tremendous ability to adapt to and absorb disruptive 
social forces and their demands – when it has ample surpluses. The 
capitalist system has essentially run out of surpluses, and therefore 
does not possess the flexibility that it once did.

Because real profits have declined since the late 1960’s, capitalism has 
resorted to operating largely on a parasitic basis, commonly referred to 
as neo-liberalism, which calls for the dismantling of the social welfare 
state, privatizing the social resources of the state, eliminating 
institutions of social solidarity (like trade unions), eliminating 
safety standards and protections, promoting the monopoly of trade by 
corporations, and running financial markets like casinos.

Our objectives therefore, must be structural and necessitate nothing 
less than complete social transformation. To press for our goals we must 
seek to exert maximum pressure by organizing mass campaigns that are 
strategic and tactically flexible, including mass action (protest) 
methods, direct action methods, boycotts, non-compliance methods, 
occupations, and various types of people’s or popular assemblies. The 
challenges here are not becoming sidelined and subordinated to someone 
else’s agenda – in particular that of the Democratic party (which as 
been the grave of social movements for generations) – and not getting 
distracted by symbolic reforms or losing sight of the strategic in the 
pursuit of the expedient.

What the combination of theses efforts will amount to is the creation of 
Black Autonomous Zones. These Autonomous Zones must serve as centers for 
collective survival, collective defense, collective self-sufficiency and 
social solidarity. However, we have to be clear that while building 
Black Autonomous Zones is necessary, they are not sufficient in and of 
themselves. In addition to advancing our own autonomous development and 
political independence, we have to build a revolutionary international 
movement. We are not going to transform the world on our own. As noted 
throughout this short work, Black people in the US are not the only 
people confronting massive displacement, dislocation, disposability, and 
genocide, various people’s and sectors of the working class throughout 
the US and the world are confronting these existential challenges and 
seeking concrete solutions and real allies as much as we do.

Our Autonomous Zones must link with, build with, and politically unite 
with oppressed, exploited and marginalized peoples, social sectors and 
social movements throughout the US and the world. The Autonomous Zones 
must link with Indigenous communities, Xicano’s and other communities 
stemming from the Caribbean, and Central and South America. We must also 
build alliances with poor and working class whites. It is essential that 
we help to serve as an alternative (or at least a counterweight) to the 
reactionary and outright fascist socialization and influences the white 
working class is constantly bombarded with.

Our Autonomous Zones should seek to serve as new fronts of class 
struggle that unite forces that are presently separated by white 
supremacy, xenophobia and other instruments of hierarchy, oppression and 
hatred. The knowledge drawn from countless generations of Black 
oppression must become known and shared by all exploited and oppressed 
people. We have to unite on the basis of a global anti-capitalist, 
anti-imperialist, and anti-colonial program that centers the liberation 
of Indigenous, colonized, and oppressed peoples and the total social and 
material emancipation of all those who labor and create the value that 
drives human civilization. We must do so by creating a regenerative 
economic system that harmonizes human production and consumption with 
the limits of the Earth’s biosphere and the needs of all our extended 
relatives – the non-human species who occupy 99.9 percent of our 
ecosystem. This is no small task, but our survival as a people and as a 
species depends upon it.

The tremendous imbalance of forces in favor of capital and the 
instruments of imperialism largely dictates that the strategy needed to 
implement this program calls for the transformation of the oppressive 
social relationships that define our life from the “bottom up” through 
radical social movements. These social movements must challenge capital 
and the commodification of life and society at every turn, while at the 
same time building up its own social and material reserves for the 
inevitable frontal assaults that will be launched against our social 
movements and the people themselves by the forces of reaction. 
Ultimately, the forces of liberation are going to have to prepare 
themselves and all the progressive forces in society for a prolonged 
battle to destroy the repressive arms of the state as the final enforcer 
of bourgeois social control in the world capitalist system. As recent 
events Greece painfully illustrate, our international movement will have 
to simultaneously win, transform, and dismantle the capitalist state at 
the same time in order to secure the democratic space necessary for a 
revolutionary movement to accomplish the most minimal of its objectives.

*Return to the Source*

The intersecting, oppressive systems of capitalism, colonialism, 
imperialism, and white supremacy have consistently tried to reduce 
African people to objects, tools, chattel, and cheap labor. Despite the 
systemic impositions and constraints these systems have tried to impose, 
Afrikan people never lost sight of their humanity, never lost sight of 
their own value, and never conceded defeat.

In the age of mounting human surplus and the devaluation and disposal of 
life, Afrikan people are going to have to call on the strengths of our 
ancestors and the lessons learned in over 500 years of struggle against 
the systems of oppression and exploitation that beset them. Building a 
self-determining future based on self-respect, self-reliance, social 
solidarity, cooperative development and internationalism is a way 
forward that offers us the chance to survive and thrive in the 21^st 
century and beyond

/*Kali Akuno* is the Producer of “An American Nightmare: Black Labor and 
Liberation”, a joint documentary project of Deep Dish TV and Cooperation 
Jackson. He is the co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, 
and a co-writer of “Operation Ghetto Storm” better known as the “Every 
28 Hours” report.. Kali can be reached at kaliakuno at gmail.com 
<mailto:kaliakuno at gmail.com> or on Twitter @KaliAkuno./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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