Was Biden’s election a ‘win’ for Black people? A response to the BLM Global Network


The Black Lives Matter movement has been of historic significance in the struggle of Black Americans, and also of significance to the whole world proletariat. The mass multi-ethnic movements, led by workers and students, channeled millions of Americans into the streets in anger against the persistence of racism, the violence of the U.S. state, and also for the defunding and even abolition of the sanctioned agents of institutionalized racism, the police.

BLM is a diffuse movement, with many organizations taking up its banner. Many activists and community members would likely consider themselves a part of the “leadership.” Thus, by no means is a statement by one of the chief national players in the Black Lives Matter constellation, the BLM Global Network, universally authoritative—but it has political weight.

On Nov. 7, the BLM Global Network released the following announcement on its website: “Once again, Black people—especially Black women—have saved the United States. Whether in Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, or Atlanta, Black voters showed up in huge numbers to turn this country around and remove the racist in the White House. What is abundantly clear is Black voters were the factor that tipped the scales in favor of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, especially in Rust Belt battleground states. It’s a testament to our communities that the same people who have been treated the worst by our democracy still showed up to save it.

“We congratulate Joe Biden on becoming President, and particularly Kamala Harris, on becoming the country’s first woman—a Black woman—to serve as Vice President. This historic win is a testament to the work Black women have been doing in the streets, in this campaign, and at every level of politics.”  [1]

Historic voter participation by Black people in America is, indeed, an achievement worthy of enthusiasm. The problem is the notion that a Biden triumph is a victory for Black people, who are still in chains. The mere presence of a person of color in a position of power is not a victory if their position works to aid the intersecting systems of capitalism and white supremacy. Moreover, the Biden/Harris ticket has only superficial appeal, and those in the streets deserve more than that.

It is obvious that Trump would not have been a better option. But we need to shift the discussion from one that is solely concerned with 2020 to one that considers how the system of American governance—resting on the dominance of two largely look-alike capitalist parties—aids and abets white supremacy. In that system, the likes of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are star players. The struggle for Black liberation, and the wider struggle for genuine democracy throughout the world, must begin with a clear stand against this system and its icons.

Joe Biden and the racist 1994 crime bill

Joe Biden co-wrote the 1994 “tough on crime” bill, partly as a means for the Democratic Party to sweep away the Republican monopoly on being “tough on crime.” In fairness, it is debatable whether the 1994 crime bill, in itself, contributed to the rise in mass incarceration. A Vox article notes: “Facing these kinds of criticisms, Biden has argued that the 1994 law, as a federal statute, couldn’t have caused mass incarceration. He argued in May, ‘Folks, let’s get something straight: 92 out of every 100 prisoners end up behind bars are in a state prison, not a federal prison. This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration—it did not generate mass incarceration.’” [2]

But Biden is using typical political sophistry. The bill represented a culture of support for mass incarceration within the Democratic Party. Indeed, Joe Biden defended the bill—and by extension the politics of mass incarceration—as late as 2016 [3]. It has only been with the immense public pressure of sustained street protests that the Democratic Party has given any attention at all toward enacting reforms of the “justice” system. But it would be quite foolish to believe that the Democratic Party will countenance any proposals to dismantle the prison industrial complex.

The mass incarceration system in the U.S. comes from the historical intersection of, on the one hand, institutionalized racism and, on the other, the failure of capitalism to provide for peoples’ needs—such as universal employment, education, quality housing, etc. What do working people do when work is unavailable and they live in a society that’s absolutely hostile to them? Many times, the choice is crime over starvation. Capitalism has no interest in expending valuable profits on giving people the resources necessary to avoid resorting to crime.

In the U.S., this tendency of capitalism to rely on prisons is amplified by the historical struggles and deprivation of the Black population. Under relatively “mundane” conditions, capitalism will always create a surplus of people it can do nothing with than to put behind bars, but America’s working class has also been fooled into a racist division that is virtually unmatched in history (only the displacing and massacre of Indigenous people in the Americas, Africa, and elsewhere provide parallels). As an oppressed national minority, Black America has had no choice than to struggle its way to equality for four centuries. Under the pressures of poverty and race hatred, they have been chewed up by the system, imprisoned, and used for cheap labor. This is principally why “the land of the free” has the largest prison population on the globe.

Obama: Deporter in chief, proprietor of predator drones

Joe Biden’s legacy shouldn’t be forgotten. The virtue, such as it is, of being the vice president of the first Black president does not change very much—both Obama and Biden served as managers of American capitalism.

The fact remains that Obama deported more immigrants then Trump did. Between both “returns” and “removals,” the Obama administration deported over 5 million people [4]. This does not include border apprehensions (see: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/02/26/u-s-immigration-policy-contributes-to-human-rights-tragedies/).

Similarly, it is well known that civilian casualties from U.S. drone bombings are a routine occurrence. This international terrorism by the U.S. was escalated under the Obama administration. Do Black lives matter? Not if their family member was considered a combatant, and they were in the same building at the wrong time! Of course, the so-called “war-on-terror” continued throughout the whole of the Obama presidency, involving drone bombings, missile strikes, and commando attacks in Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, etc.

It is tempting for people who still have faith in the Democrats to suggest that Obama only inherited the awfulness of immigration policy, and only inherited the “war on terror.” By this logic every last crime, every act of mass murder, and every dirty method of strangling democratic processes can be forgiven, since all leaders only inherit the empire! Donald Trump should be forgiven for his racist remarks and encouragement to the far right, since he only inherited the legacy of white supremacy.

Lest we forget, BLM began under the Obama/Biden administration, and the administration did practically nothing to jail killer cops or otherwise curb the excesses of the police.

Kamala Harris: Not a “progressive” prosecutor

If ever such a thing as a “progressive prosecutor” could possibly exist, Kamala Harris is not one of them. This “progressive prosecutor” is also complicit in the system of mass incarceration. A few examples from Harris’s record should suffice:

In 2015 California’s legislative Black Caucus had asked Harris, then attorney general, to not only independently investigate fatal police shootings, but also to mandate standards for police body cameras across the state. She refused on both accounts. The Los Angeles Times also noted: “Eric Rose, a public affairs expert in Los Angeles, said it’s important to remember that Harris comes from a law enforcement background. … ‘She hasn’t backtracked on her beliefs. She hasn’t switched positions,’ he said. ‘She’s a true liberal, but she’s been smart about finding the right issues to talk about that would not alienate the law enforcement community.’” [5]

In 2014, a federal judge in Orange County, Calif., ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. Harris appealed the decision.

In 2011, Harris enthusiastically supported California’s new school truancy laws, levying fines (up to $2000) and even jail time, for parents who fail to make their kids attend school. California is not unique in having these laws, but at that time this law was fairly draconian, and of course the weaving of the role of the school system and law enforcement must not be overlooked. By necessity, truancy laws fall hardest on the poor.

There is more that could be talked about, including the mis-handling of evidence in cases of wrongful conviction, such as with the Kevin Cooper and George Gage cases. This evidence should emphasize how having Harris as vice president will do no damage whatsoever to mass incarceration or white supremacy.

Stay in the streets!

BLM is decentralized, so the “official” website of the Black Lives Matter Global Network couldn’t possibly sum up the opinion of the people in the streets with completeness. Of the millions who took to the streets to protest police violence, there are quite a few who detest Democratic betrayals of the working class, and do not buy the sugar talk from “progressives” about reforming the police. Conscious recognition is growing of the police being agents of state violence, as is recognition of the Republicans and Democrats being two branches from the same rotten root.

People will most likely find that under a Biden presidency neither policing nor mass incarceration will change to a significant degree. These things did not originate with Trump, and thus his temporary disappearance from the scene won’t make them, in all their horribleness, disappear. The very institutions of capitalism, and the history of American racism, perpetuate the problem.

Why then congratulate Biden/Harris at all? Their winning the election gains nothing of real value for the movement. It’s not a victory, but a placebo.

It is clear from the Floyd/Taylor protests that many people, of all ethnic backgrounds, know that deeper systematic change must happen. It’s a real shame then that the BLM Global Network’s website doesn’t reflect this understanding, and it suggests that, at least for now, a certain layer of BLM leaders are burdened with illusions about the possibilities of capitalist reform.

Workers shouldn’t wait for liberal reformers to save them; they should stay in the streets and resist the myriad of attempts to scare them away. Union organizing and ultimately strike actions are needed to build working-class power against the establishment. BLM activists should seriously consider the formation of an independent Black party that draws from the current sea of discontent and speaks to the plight of Blacks and other working people in this country with a strong and consistent program of struggle.

Ultimately, a workers’ revolution can provide a solution to the problem, and this revolution must inevitably unseat all of the Bidens and Harrises of the world, along with the Trumps and Pences, by changing the entire system for one of socialism. These politicians are not our allies, and there is no “lesser evil.” They are the same evil.

[1] https://blacklivesmatter.com/black-lives-matter-global-network-statement-about-biden-harris-victory/

[2] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/6/20/18677998/joe-biden-1994-crime-bill-law-mass-incarceration

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsK3aaYq9zA 2016: Joe Biden believes the 1994 crime bill “restored American cities”.

[4] https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/obama-record-deportations-deporter-chief-or-not

[5] https://www.latimes.com/local/politics/la-me-pol-ca-harris-police-shootings-20160118-story.html

Photo: John Minchillo / AP

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