Capitalist Rulers Leave Blacks, Poor to Die New Orleans: Racist Atrocity For a Planned Economy Under Workers Rule!
Spartacist League USA September 4th, 2005
“We’re dying!” This was the desperate cry of those mainly black people trapped by flooding from Hurricane Katrina, which has submerged 80 percent of New Orleans and devastated wide swaths of lower Louisiana and Mississippi. Natural disasters like hurricanes do happen, but the horror taking place on the Gulf Coast is manmade. Having done nothing except watch helpless people suffer, starve and die, the government says now is not the time to point fingers. Now is precisely the time to indict the capitalist criminals running this country. This anarchic, irrational profit-driven system cannot even provide for the safety and welfare of the population—the system must go. This disaster has laid bare the class and race divisions in America. The logic of U.S. capitalism is that whites mainly lost property, blacks mainly lost lives. It is overwhelmingly black people, deemed “expendable” by the rulers, who suffered and died by the thousands in this two-thirds black city. Because they did not have cars to get them out of town or credit cards to pay for motel rooms. Because they generally cannot afford to live on the higher ground. This catastrophic destruction of lives and livelihoods underlines that the oppression of black people is rooted in the very bedrock of American capitalism and will not be ended short of a socialist revolution that rips power and the means of production from the greedy rulers and places them in the hands of the working people. This is a case of criminality piled atop criminality. The unspeakable, smirking George W. Bush trimmed his month-long vacation by a couple of days to survey the disaster zone from his presidential jet and asked inanely: Who knew the levees would break? Answer: Everyone. For years, scientists and Army Corps of Engineers officials warned that the levees were sinking and incapable of withstanding a powerful hurricane. But even the paltry millions that had been budgeted for repair and reinforcement were slashed and diverted to help pay for the occupation of Iraq and the phony “war on terror,” while the filthy rich got more tax cuts. As Hurricane Katrina approached, black Democratic mayor Ray Nagin ordered a full evacuation of New Orleans. But no transport was provided for the 35 percent of black households without cars, and for the tens of thousands of the elderly and disabled. They were all left to die. Then it took five days—with temperatures in the 90s, with elderly people dying in their wheelchairs and desperate mothers begging for food and water—for the government to even begin providing relief. Bush timed a photo-op in New Orleans to coincide with the first convoys of relief supplies. Meanwhile his man at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) claimed that the government had not known that there were thousands in the Convention Center—this as hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the globe watched scenes evocative of concentration camps or the Middle Passage. Barely a day after the flooding, the government and its media mouthpieces turned the victims into “criminals,” depicting black people as those who “loot” and white people as those who “find” items from local grocery stores. Mayor Nagin called off search-and-rescue operations and redeployed police to stop looters. With depraved indifference to the desperate masses, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco announced that some 300 members of the Arkansas National Guard had been sent to New Orleans not to help the survivors but to terrorize them: “These troops know how to shoot and kill…and I expect they will.” Even as it joined the anti-looting hysteria, the New York Times (3 September) was compelled to admit that those abandoned by all levels of government viewed as “Robin Hood figures” the young black men who “found milk and food” or broke into fancy hotel kitchens to serve up gigantic breakfasts for those stranded in the Convention Center. These are the heroes of this disaster. It is the American ruling class that has looted entire countries and continents, that in this country bled workers’ pension funds dry and gorged themselves on record profits while diverting funds from health care, education and life-saving measures like flood prevention. And now the oil companies are seizing on the disaster to further jack up prices. Today the administrators of the capitalist state reveal the incredible depth of their class contempt and ignorance—they believed they could simply abandon the poor, the old and the sick of New Orleans to their own fate. But everyone was evacuated from the oil rigs in the Gulf before the storm hit. Commentators now speak of “the storm after the storm,” advising America’s rulers to prepare for social blowback at the base of society. Even from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, the administration’s seeming indifference to the destruction of a major American city and a crucial port, with a petrochemical industry responsible for 20 percent of the country’s oil, is irrational. Coast to coast, working people, minorities and much of the rest of the population are furious with the people running this country. The Democrats are now going after Bush hammer and tongs. This administration is a particularly crass expression of the greed and arrogance of America’s capitalist rulers. But the decline in real wages and the decimation of the labor movement gathered speed under Democrats and Republicans alike, as did the gap between rich and poor, the impoverishment of the ghetto and barrio population and the massive incarceration of their youth. Indeed, it was Democrat Clinton who boasted of having axed “welfare as we know it.” The devastation of New Orleans is the result of decades of bipartisan neglect by a ruling class that doesn’t want to pay for repairing its deteriorating infrastructure, driven as it is by lust for immediate gain. Four years ago, FEMA itself warned that a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was one of the three deadliest disasters that could befall the U.S. Scientists at Louisiana State University modeled hundreds of storm possibilities and predicted that more than 100,000 people could die. The government responded by repeatedly slashing urgently needed funds. By 2004, the Bush administration had cut more than 80 percent of the Army Corps of Engineers budget request for strengthening the levees for Lake Pontchartrain. This June the government made even deeper cuts. Bush and the Democrats cynically used the bodies of the working people killed in the criminal September 11 attack on the World Trade Center as a bloody shirt in launching the “war on terror” and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Ask any black person in the Gulf Coast: Has the government protected them from catastrophe? Are working people safer? “Homeland Security” is now being directed with guns drawn against black people in New Orleans. Meanwhile, black troops from Louisiana and Mississippi who were sent to Iraq to kill and die for American imperialism now wait in anguish to hear if their own loved ones at home remain alive. The bloody subjugation of the Iraqi peoples is carried out by the same capitalist class that has consigned thousands upon thousands of New Orleans residents to death and devastation. U.S. out of Iraq—now! Down with the imperialist occupation! The capitalist rulers have their priorities, and taking care of working people isn’t one of them. When Hurricane Michelle, a Category 4 storm, hit Cuba in 2001, some 700,000 people were evacuated in a matter of hours—despite poor roads and fuel shortages. Some 25,000 volunteers were mobilized to go door to door to prepare people for evacuation; trucks and buses were provided to move the population to safety and living spaces organized for the refugees. Similar operations took place in 2002, 2004 (evacuating 1.9 million people out of a total population of 11 million) and again this July. This shows the power of Cuba’s collectivized economy, which, despite Castro’s bureaucratic regime, is organized not on the basis of capitalist competition for profits but on the basis of economic planning. The 1960-61 Cuban Revolution threw out the capitalists, the U.S. imperialists and their CIA spies and Mafia henchmen, creating a bureaucratically deformed workers state, which must be defended unconditionally against U.S. imperialism. The situation cries out for a workers revolution in the U.S. to do away with the capitalist system and establish a society with a planned, collectivized economy. This country was founded on black chattel slavery, and the continuing enforced segregation of the black population as a last-hired, first-fired race-color caste is the key prop to capitalist rule. This material subjugation of the black population is what perpetuates the racist bigotry that divides and weakens the working class. Karl Marx got it exactly right when he said, “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” Today, the trade unions—especially the heavily black ILA longshore union in the Southeast and on the Gulf Coast—should be mobilizing for the rescue effort and demanding a massive rebuilding effort that would provide every unemployed person with a job at good union wages. But the pro-capitalist trade-union tops, tied as they are to the Democratic and Republican parties, stand condemned through their inaction. The “national unity” patriotism promoted by the bourgeoisie and embraced by the labor misleaders is being challenged by the mass anger over the government’s New Orleans disaster and over the widely unpopular Iraq war. The current strikes at Northwest Airlines and Boeing, if backed up by the rest of labor, could point the way toward unleashing the social power of the working class. It is the class struggle of the multiracial proletariat that can open the road to overthrowing the decrepit capitalist order and establishing a workers government. The Spartacist League is committed to assembling the most conscious class-struggle militants to forge a revolutionary party to lead all the exploited and oppressed in this fight. As New Orleans shows, the choice is clear: socialism or barbarism.